Elles, a strong insight into the world of prostitution
One of the most successful French actresses working in Hollywood and in her home country, Juliette Binoche is probably best known for roles in The Three Colours trilogy, Paris, Je t’aime and alongside Johnny Depp in Chocolat. Her ability to encapsulate the role of a plain yet attractive middle-aged woman has won her a lot of supporting roles in middle-of-the-road dramas, an area she has been highly impressive in.
In Elles, Binoche plays middle-class journalist, Anne, researching the seedy world of prostitution for a feature she is writing for Elle magazine. Her marriage is turbulent, to say the least, and as she interviews two working girls Alicja (Joanna Kulig) and Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier) on their experiences, she soon begins to see connections between their lives and her own family life. Infidelity hangs in the air like a bad smell between Anne and her estranged husband Patrick (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and moving into a world where sex and intimacy can be bought; Anne is forced to question her own morals.
It is incredibly plain to see that Polish director, and writer of Elles, Malgorzata Szumowska wanted to capture all the sexual elements of the story in all their glory and by no means does she hold back. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) have clear guidelines on sexual violence and, despite rumours that the film received an NC-17 certificate, the BBFC gave Elles an 18 rating, naming three scenes in the film that validated such a high rating. The scenes in question are not for the faint-hearted and although you will squirm and squint when they arrive, in the context of the film’s narrative, I feel as though they are justified in illustrating the complex and broken world of prostitution and escorting.
Binoche carries the film largely on her own with help coming from a rich and believable performance from Anaïs Demoustier, whose previous work has mainly been seen in France, but it is Binoche who we see as this troubled, depressed heroine who seems to be locked in, yet, fascinated by the lives of the girls she is interviewing. The strong themes of desire and greed are also present, giving the film a suitably dark tone mixed with a few comedic scenes and lines nestled within the dialogue — too few in my opinion.
Elles relies heavily on the powerful sexual theme delivered and its candid take on the act of sex leaves for a very arty feel to the directing and the cinematography. Its frequent shots of sex and the acts around sex may lead to the film not being shown in smaller cinemas but for the most part, it is contextually relevant and, amidst the explicit content, by no means takes away the fact that Binoche gives a flawless leading performance as Anne; 0ne that will definitely be remembered.
Watch the trailer for Elles here