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Released 20 April 2012
Director Malgorzata Szumowska

Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Krystyna Janda, Andzrej Chyra

Tine Byrckel, Malgorzata Szumowska
Producer(s) Marianne Slot
Origin France, Poland, Germany
Running Time 99 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 18

Problematic French drama.

Anne (Binoche) begins bored and bourgeois, either consumed with pedestrian household chores and frustrating family issues, or stalking her large apartment almost as if it were a confined space. A successful journalist, she begins to interview two young women who have turned to prostitution to financially aid their college studies and whose company and stories gradually spark a desire for something more in her life.

Like Catherine Millet's graphic memoir The Sexual Life of Catherine M. Elles leaves little to the imagination, and Elles' scenes are often personal, frank and forgo euphemism. Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier) complains wryly about her upbringing more so than her nocturnal activities and cries that she can't get the smell of her parent's estate from her clothes while looking with avarice at Anne's obvious wealth. Fiercely independent prostitution for her doesn't seem an awakening of a dormant need for abasement or a social trap but instead a means to an end. Joanna Kulig as Alicja, perhaps, is another case, far from her Polish home, and as we learn initially penniless, we're left unaware of how she began her work, yet she still has unabashed conviction in her financially beneficial choice.

There are times when Elles seems a little too cosy in its theorising but the ideas are wrought well within the film's structure, never unapologetically pounding an opinion onto an unwilling audience but instead playing out the intricacies of this very specific situation. Anne's bourgeois fantasies are never framed as otherwise while the reasonings behind Charlotte and Alicja's choice are neither commended or detested but instead understood rather than placed in a remote moral hinterland. The film, of course, is perhaps a little naive, painting a more favourable picture of prostitution than many women experience and is arguably as bourgeois and cosseted a fantasy as Anne's own.

Juliette Binoche takes another bravura turn as Parisian journalist Anne in a film that takes her journalistic exercise and turns it into a filmic treatise on the dark content of sexual relations.

- Cormac O’Brien