Film Review: Elles

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Since finishing high school, Cate has spent the past five years meandering through a number of the faculties at The University of Western Australia on her mission to discover where her true interests lie.

With a few more years to go in her combined Bachelor of Arts and Law degree, she has finally discovered a love for literary studies, with favourites such as The Brothers Grimm, Miles Franklin, Truman Capote, Roald Dahl, and Oscar Wilde.When she’s not making her way through the pile of cases and readings that consumes much of her time, Cate is somewhat of a fashion and food junkie, constantly cooking up a storm in the kitchen, and buying way too many clothes online.

A background in Drama and Theatre Studies means she absolutely adores Musical Theatre and has fond memories of seeing shows on Broadway and West End. With the hope of entering the publishing sphere upon graduation, Cate sees Trove as a great way to learn how to edit literature and multimedia.

Poster image for the film 'Elles'

Review by Cate Leedman

Edited by Crystal Abidin

Film: Elles
Director: Malgorzata Szumowska
Running Time: 99 minutes
Year of Release: 2011
Language: French (with English subtitles)

No longer a taboo topic

Men are misogynistic pigs and women are forever under their adulterated charm. Elles, by Polish director Malgoska Szumowska, deconstructs this view candidly over the course of a day, where journalist, mother, and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) recollects her encounters and conversations with two young women living on the dangerous and desperate side of life.

The film dissects three women by giving insight to their sense of control imparted through sexuality. Voyeurism is promoted through our watching of lengthy, almost pornographic scenes of two young escorts and several of their high paying clients.

Anne’s latest assignment for French magazine Elle sends her delving into the lives of two unusual and complex students. The instant rapport that she creates with Charlotte ‘Lola’ (Anais Demoustier), and Alicja (Joanna Kulig) encourages their openness and our satisfaction at viewing behind-the-scenes of such a taboo occupation.

After much persuasion, Anne interviews both ‘Lola’ and Alicja about their world of lies, dominance, and dependence. We see the toll that keeping the secret plays on Lola’s relationship with her boyfriend, and her struggle to maintain integrity when visiting her family home. In comparison, Alicja doesn’t shy away from her mother’s attention, even when she comes across Alicja’s X-rated lingerie and sex toys while staying in her daughter’s extravagant apartment.

Fuelled by instances of desperation and poverty, Lola and Alicja earn their money by seducing and satisfying “bored husbands”, and discover the power they hold over their male clients.

Where she believed she would only find depression and misery, Anne finds liberty, pride, and female empowerment. Alicja exudes confidence, and confides in Anne the circumstances that led to such a turn in events, and how “lucky” she was to have such a kind and caring first male ‘customer’.

After learning this, we are confronted onscreen by a greying man who could certainly be her grandfather, let alone father, and are immediately thrown into a naked scene of guitar strumming and singing.

Szumowska frequently challenges the prominent view that prostitution is an exploitive and degrading industry for women. Lola’s intact innocence, and Alicja’s overt confidence shows that being paid for sex has seemingly positively impacted these two girls.

This appears to promote the liberation of female sexuality in contrast to the overtly superior and chauvinistic portrayal of majority of the male characters throughout Elles.

Lola describes that act of payment for sex as being “like smoking. It’s hard to stop.” That’s similar to how I felt about watching the film. At times you are caught completely off-guard, with some of the scenes inducing covert voyeurism among the audience. However, I found the script and character construction extremely mesmerizing.

I would strongly recommend Elles to those who enjoy French films, but expect a great deal of nudity. This film sparks among the audience sympathy, a sense of empowerment (for fellow female viewers) and rapture.