Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Want the "skinny" on student prostitution? Malgoska Szumowska's silly ELLES arrives

Student prosti-tution, they say, is on the rise. And why not? Our students -- just as is the rest of the world, excepting the very rich -- are in economic trouble, getting charged more for tuition and loans and facing a woeful job market once they enter the workplace. If you've got it, kids, since this is an increa-singly market-oriented society, you might as well sell it, no? Last year we saw, via IFC and VOD a most interesting exploration of this phenomenon, starring the very good Déborah François, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot and titled Student Services. That film, which you really should see, is perhaps ten times better than the piece of Polish/French ordure opening this week and calling itself ELLES.

All right: I am being too hard on this movie, co-written (with Tine Byrckel) and directed by Malgoska Szumowska (shown at left), which is little more than a cheap tease. It pretends to deal with its subject while serving it up in the most obvious been-there, done-that manner, in which a journalist (Juliette Binoche, below), writing a piece on prostitution for Elle magazine (the movie certainly has all the depth of that publication), begins using her interviews as fodder for her own sexual fantasies. It fooled poor Piers Handling of the Toronto Film Fest into thinking that it was placing "female sexuality, in all its complexity, under a microscope," Hah. What we get is more the usual male sexual fantasies, served up by --  surprise -- women! I am sorry, but the fact that this movie was made by women lets no one off the hook for dishing out drivel.

You watch and you wait and you wonder when, finally, will something slightly original hit the screen? Nothing does until maybe the golden shower that one of the clients offers his girl, from a discrete angle, of course. You also hope for a little richness or depth of character, but everything we see and hear, if you've witnessed a few films in your time, you could (and probably will) create in your head as the movie proceeds, doing a better job than have the filmmakers. Elles, I'm afraid, is cliché central.

Does our little Polish lass (a very zoftig Joanna Kulig, above) have parental problems? Check? Will mommy discover her daughter's dirty doings? Check. Does our journalist have issues with her hubby at home? Check. Will these surface most dramatically during the dinner party that husband has scheduled with his boss. Double check. And on and on. It's not that the acting isn't believable, the photography pretty to look at and the sexual activity pant-worthy. But it all adds up to a big fat nothing.

Poor Ms Binoche, who, as usual, gives herself over to her role 100 per cent, gets stuck with doing things like masturbating intently and ferociously, and, in an embarrassingly self-conscious and slobbery eating scene, is barely able to keep food from dribbling down her chin. Wow -- that's so real!

Wasted in this mix are some fine actors like Anaïs Demoustier (above, from last year's Living On Love Alone) as the other of Binoche's interviews, and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (Father of My Children) as her somewhat clueless hubby. A frustratingly empty exercise, which for some may provide a turn-on (hell, use your imagination and have more fun), Elles, unrated, opens this Friday, April 27, in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis and Washington DC -- with many other cities to follow in the weeks to come. For all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here -- then scroll down.

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