Saturday, August 27, 2011

Isabelle Huppert stuns in Jeanne Labrune's witty, thoughtful SPECIAL TREATMENT

"You've got good taste, for a hooker," notes an attitude-prone antiques dealer to the prostitute played by Isabelle Huppert in the unusual new film SPECIAL TREATMENT (Sans queue ni tête), which opened theatrically yesterday in Manhattan. Well, Ms Huppert would. She plays Alice Bergerac, a high-level hooker in a Paris seemingly filled with whores and shrinks -- in a movie that finds a surprising amount of common ground between the two professions, a fact that put The NY Times critic Stephen Holden's nose slightly out of joint. (The very idea, disparaging the work of the acolytes of Herr Freud!)

Well, more power to writer/director Jeanne Lebrune (shown at right) and co-writer Richard Debuisne for exploring the similarities between these pay-for-my-time-and-I'll-give-you-what-you-want/need professions. Their movie alternates scenes of shrinks (together or solo) with and without their "patients" and scenes of prostitutes with theirs. At one wittily filmed social gathering, the analysts compare rates, time periods (one bored fellow suggests five-minute sessions for much less money and -- he advises -- equal results.

What? Do these filmmakers imply that not every shrink has humanity's best interests at heart? Makes sense to me. Since we already know that not every whore has a heart of gold, why not look at the monetary, social and sexual interests of analysts?

The Times critic also takes Huppert to task for being, as  fine an actress as she is,  too old for the role. He ungenerously tells her her age, while neglecting to mention that she does not look it -- which, in this case, is the whole point. For her clients, she is role-playing, and doing a damned good job of it. (If TM were a fellow inclined to pay for sex, he's have no trouble dishing out the Euros to Huppert's Alice)

In the course of the movie, the actress gets the opportunity to don a number of fun outfits, wigs and (sort of) personalities, though -- as is often the case with this actress -- she remains aloof and almost obsessively self-composed. Which, of course, adds to her allure.

One shrink whom we meet, Xavier, seems particularly at wit's end, his marriage to his analyst wife imploding. Played by the wonderful actor Bouli Lanners (above, with Ms Huppert), of the under-seen El Dorado, this character manages to give Huppert's a run for the money in terms of sheer interest. By a dose of luck and circumstance, he connects with Alice, but the relationship does not offer either what they need.

Here the movie turns into something  stronger and more edifying than we had expected, involving an analyst who actually knows what he is doing (played quite well with an intriguing reticence and humility by the co-screenwriter, M. Debuisne, below, left ,with M. Lanners).

What comes through most strongly in this very interesting and engaging movie is E.M. Forster's plea/suggestion: Only connect!  Forster meant this on the emotional levvel, and this, of course, is what neither analysts nor prostitutes are able to do -- and supposedly should not do. And yet without this emotional connection to underpin what they are "giving," what worth are they? With it, however, they -- and their clients -- might, who knows, take on their share of the job of changing this sodden, hypocriticial world.

The great strength of Special Treatment is how wittily and subversively it upends what we think we know. The movie, from the wonderfully reliable First Run Feautres, opened yesterday in New York City at the Cinema Village. Click here then scroll down for other playdates, cities and theaters.

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