Juliette Binoche stars here as Anne, a journalist writing for Elle magazine. Her latest assignment is all about university students who earn themselves extra money by working as prostitutes. As she has more conversations with Charlotte (Anaís Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig), she starts to find herself more and more preoccupied with thoughts of sex, and how it impacts the lives of these young women, for better or for worse.
Directed by Małgorzata Szumowska, who also co-wrote the script with Tine Byrckel, Elles has been lazily described as a modern riff on Belle de Jour. While there are certainly similarities here, especially with the way that the main character starts to slip further into moments of fantasy during her day to day life, this is a film framed to feel much more relevant today than the Bunuel classic (and Belle de Jour IS a classic). There's ambiguity, there is a good and bad side shown to being so open to differing dynamics in sexual situations, but the undercurrent feels more positive, a reminder to women that wanting sex, using it for your own gain, isn't anything to be ashamed of, no matter what hypocrites have to say about it.
Szumowska is someone I have not encountered before, yet a very brief look over her filmography shows a selection of titles and synopses that mark her out as someone creating consistently smart and interesting fare. I doubt this will be the last time I review one of her films, especially as I now intend to seek out her other works ASAP (ASAP for me, however, always means . . . at some point within the next decade).
Binoche does good work in the main role, portraying a character who could easily have remained less interesting than the others she becomes fascinated by. The fact that she becomes more fleshed out and interesting as she examines herself in the reflection of her interview subjects is thanks to both the script and the performance from Binoche. The same can be said of her family members (mainly her husband, played by Louis-do de Lencquesaing, and elder son, played by François Civil), with those characters moved to the foreground as Demoustier and Kulig, a couple of key scenes aside, are gradually moved back. The focus of the film slowly, but surely, turns to show what Binoche does with her new insights, and how she starts to consider living her life by a new set of standards.
Elles doesn't do anything new, it won't change the way you view things, but it's a well-made reminder of the minefields we all navigate in our own minds when it comes to something that should always be pleasurable and a lot less complicated: sex.
You can pick up the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.