Elles, from Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, follows Anne (Juliette Binoche), a reporter who is writing an investigative piece on female students who turn to prostitution to pay for their studies.
Jumping all over the place in a way that’s irritating rather than creative, it does nothing to elevate the material to anything powerful or memorable. As we follow Anne talking to two women on and off it feels disjointed, giving off a stench of arty for the sake of it making the fact that it’s beautifully shot and framed, with a wonderful central performance by Binoche, all the more disheartening.
Binoche is rarely anything short of magnificent and she makes the film worth a look at least somewhat for her performance. But even she isn’t enough to make up for its severe shortcomings either as an exploration of the potential darker side of student and financially-troubled life or in how that compares and contrasts with a seemingly comfortable domestic life of someone who is on the outside looking in on the former.
In a year when Shame hit UK cinemas, a difficult but highly rewarding film about sexuality, Elles feels like a desperate wannabe. Like Shame, it features some shockingly explicit sex scenes (which I’m surprised were passed by the BBFC) that are clearly there for no other reason than to be controversial. You could argue, I suppose, that is a welcome provocation and departure from the norm, but then again the scenes add nothing to the impact of the film; ironically they render the film inert in a lot of ways simply because they serve no real purpose.
Kept afloat by a fantastic performance by Binoche, this beautiful-looking movie struggles to maintain a consistency both in tone and what its trying to say about the topic-at-hand, leading to a confusing and unsatisfying piece of cinema. There’s an interesting and rewarding film to be made about this subject but unfortunately Elles isn’t it.