Elles (2011)

Straight or street life?

Juliette Binoche is the core and a pillar of Małgorzata Szumowska’s fictional reportage about student Parisian prostitutes. Binoche plays a journalist for Elle magazine who’s exploring the subject – she conducts two long, detailed interviews with Charlotte aka Lola (Anaïs Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig). Alicja, a Polish student who moved to France, started selling herself because of financial difficulties; we don’t know Charlotte’s motivations, but we do know that she’s successfully joggling both numerous professional relationships and a personal one with her boyfriend.

Both girls seem to be extremely lucky, having met only rich, clean and almost always respectful clients – the cream of the crop. We do not hear much about the dark side of their profession. During her discussions with the girls Anne (Binoche) seems to touch upon many interesting topics that aren’t properly developed. We have a sneak peek into the girls’ family lives as well, but the director doesn’t go deeper.

Instead, she focuses on Anne, whom we see in her middle-class Parisian apartment, busy with daily responsibilities, unable to tackle the problems that trouble many families, such as her unruly teenage son and conflict with her unhappy husband.

Anne is confused by her interviewees’ stories and in the beginning can’t find the reasons for their actions. After finding pornography on her husband’s computer, she takes a closer look at her own seemingly happy life and finds what she believes is an explanation to this widely spread phenomenon – it’s all the fault of middle-class wives! The misunderstandings, the family life routine, the tiredness – that’s what leads men into the arms of teenagers and creates a social problem.

Sounds banal? A trite, easy explanation? Or is it actually correct? That’s what Szumowska gives us as an answer in her film – it’s quite well made and very well played, but ultimately shallow in its treatment of an interesting subject.

99 mins. In French, English and Polish.

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