"A disappointing take on what is otherwise a quite intriguing and potentially compelling premise..."
When you combine the words "French" and "Eroticism" I'm usually sold, but this Malgorzata Szumowska production Elles is a disappointing take on what is otherwise a quite intriguing and potentially compelling premise; of young French women turning to prostitution to help fund their studies.
Esteemed French actress Juliette Binoche plays Anne, an investigative journalist conjuring a feature article on the disconcerting subject for Elle magazine. She uses two students as case studies; the seemingly self-assured Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) and the more volatile Alicja (Joanna Kulig).
Living in a loveless marriage, with two sons - the eldest refusing to go to school, Anne is moved by her meetings with the two independent women, and begins to question her own livelihood and relationships as a result.
As you can probably gather from my brief synopsis, Elles is certainly lacking within it's story, and despite the distressing and provocative story line, it fails to merge the lives of the prostitutes with Anne's to any great success. In all honestly I am somewhat perplexed as to what Szumowska is trying to achieve with this particular film. We certainly don't learn enough about the prostitution industry amongst students in France, or feel that we have delved into the sordid world with any great effect. I have a sneaky suspicion Anne isn't actually a very good investigative journalist.
Elles fails to take you anywhere you don't feel as though you have been before. In that respect it is highly unfulfilling as you question the point to the whole movie. There is little substance and despite there evidentially being a concluding moral in respects to Anne's life, god knows what it is. There are however some scenes which are uncomfortable to watch, which is a testament to the filmmaker. Some of the sequences between the young prostitutes and older men are quite seedy and distressing. As a result there is a nice balance attained by Szumowska, with a few charming and endearing scenes gently counteracting the harshness of the erotic sequences.
The performances from our protagonists are all highly respectable, especially for Demoustier and Kulig who have got very difficult roles to get into and some seemingly hard scenes to perform in, yet they are both impressive showing incredible signs of maturity. Binoche is also very good as Anne, a multi-layered character with much depth to her, it's just a shame for Binoche that we don't actually get to the bottom of the character or manage to fully understand her.
It's a shame for all of the performers really that the end product is disappointing - as none can be blamed for the misgivings within the film, as it just goes nowhere and tells an undistinguished story. I have spent a while trying to figure the film out as I had been convinced there is more to it than meets the eye, thinking that perhaps a second viewing would prove successful. But then I realised that the filmmakers probably want me to believe that, whereas in reality, I don't think there is much more to it at all.