Juliette Binoche can be a revelatory actress, and is certainly a courageous one -- how else could she find herself in the compromising positions required by director Malgoska Szumowska and "Elles"?
Spending most of its time striving for titillation and the rest making dubious analogies, Szumowska's film focuses on Anne (Binoche), a well-off Parisian mother of two and writer for -- what else? -- Elle, whose profile of two university student hookers leads her to examine her own life, and find parallels with prostitution.
This is not an entirely new idea. Nor does "Elles" offer any new insights into either domestic slavery or sex work. But it does offer a lot of sex, which for some will be just fine.
Anne's subjects are both needy, both hungry for success, and both willing to do what it takes to escape their origins. For Charlotte (Anais Demoustier), it's the lower-class housing projects where she grew up; for Alicja (Joanna Kulig), it's her immigrant Polish roots.
As part of her research, Anne watches the younger women engage their clients, all rich "bored husbands" who repulse Anne at the same time she's aroused by the talk, the women and the work. The incongruities run rampant. The sex is sleek, when it isn't turning brutal; Anne's household is plush, but her sons are useless, her husband (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is MIA, and her father (Jean-Marie Binoche) is in the hospital.
In one of Szumowska's more ludicrous scenes, Anne's rubbing of her father's feet is equated with the work of Charlotte and Alicja. So: If you're lucky enough to have someone rub your feet, give them a good tip.
PLOT Privileged Parisian journalist's investigation of college prostitution causes her to question her own values and desires. RATING NC-17 (explicit sexual content)
CAST Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier, Joanna Kulig
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 5
BOTTOM LINE Binoche is always intelligent and engaging, but the lazy parallels drawn between hookers and middle-class mothers seem, at best, a little offensive. (In French and Polish with English subtitles)