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Elles

Directed by Małgorzata Szumowska

France, 2011

Cornerhouse, 21 April 2012

Elles

Open the weekend supplement of your favourite newspaper and you’re likely to read yet another story about University students, nice girls all, selling their bodies for sex: easy money, pleasant work, no cost or personal injury incurred.

In this film we follow a day in the life of a journalist – name of Anne, played by Juliette Binoche – as she puts together just such a story, racing to meet a deadline.  Her encounters with two interviewees, both nice girls, are recounted.  Their experiences make up most of the film, and are responsible for its 18 certificate.

It is a subtle film, not simply a quasi-documentary or social commentary.  At its root is the thesis that fantasy (specifically, transgressive sexual fantasy) is necessary to regulate and keep in good shape the bourgeois family, and therefore the social order in general.  For the most part, these young women serve married men’s sexual needs and desires, offering them those things that they cannot get, or choose not to get, from their wives.  To this one can add that, during her day, Anne discovers porn on both her husband’s and her eldest son’s computer – so matters skirt close to home.  While her younger son plays war games on his Playstation, perhaps a not dissimilar mode of escape.  And she herself is seen to masturbate and float away.

The final scene, with the nuclear family sat around the breakfast table on the following day, is hardly a copout – it possesses an inevitable logic.

Binoche is excellent here and Joanna Kulig notches up another fine performance, following on from her appearance in The Woman in the Fifth.  There’s golden music from the likes of Beethoven, inventively deployed.  Despite the explicit sexual scenes, Saints couldn’t fault this film.

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