Mary Poppins Returns
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All Critics (60)
| Top Critics (17)
| Fresh (14)
| Rotten (46)
| DVD (1)
Writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska breaks past the facile moralizing only once.
"Elles" has a surprisingly deep performance in a disappointingly shallow movie.
Binoche is the disappointment. More than half the problem is that the script, co-written by the director, gives her little to do but fret and mope.
One of her (Binoche's) lesser choices.
Both provocative and muddled, the film's a moody, passive-aggressive tract that's buoyed by superior performances and sunk by its own uncertainties.
This is not an entirely new idea. Nor does "Elles" offer any new insights into either domestic slavery or sex work. But it does offer a lot of sex, which for some will be just fine.
Some of the dialogue shared between the characters in Elles is undeniably unnerving.
Elles is well performed and offers food for thought but raises many more questions than it answers.
It's a story told often and usually, as in this case, not told particularly well.
You could hardly think of a racier subject and a more meandering, listless movie.
Elles is undeniably challenging, courageously delving into some immensely messy issues surrounding sexuality and the ways men and women barter in relationships.
Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska deserves some sort of award for making such a potentially spell-binding topic so flat.
In "Elles," Anne(Juliette Binoche) is a journalist who works out of her home that she shares with her husband and two sons. Her latest assignment is chronicling the lives of young escorts in Paris. Charlotte(Anais Demoustier) lives a double life, keeping her professional life from her family and boyfriend and working under an assumed name. Anne bluffs her way to make an appointment with Alicja(Joanna Kulig), another escort. After some reluctance, Alicja tells her tale of woe which starts with her arrival from Poland as a student only to find sexist landlords, her belongings stolen, an unsympathetic mother back home and eventually a home in the suburbs.
Even with all of the smooth tracking shots in the world, there is no getting around the fact that "Elles" is one severely disjointed movie. A lot of that has to do with what it tries to say on the subject of prostitution. It is one thing to accentuate the erotic side of the profession; it is quite another to say that Anne with her comfortable life is in a less enviable place than the women she is profiling, as she might also have a drinking problem. And again there is only so much Juliette Binoche can do with such limited and inconsistent material.
A journalist, Anne (Juliette Binoche) in the course of interviewing two young women, students at a Paris University, about their working as call girls for an article for the European edition of Elle magazine, gets caught up in her work and befriends the two women. Strong performances, by all and an interesting look at what drives these girls to sell themselves this way, while trying to keep up appearances of normalcy. A few scenes of brutality were hard to take and seemed not to affect the girls as much as one would expect, which made this seem a little glossed over, but all in all, and interesting study.
"Elles" is a French film made by a relatively young Polish-born filmmaker (Malgoska Szumowska) whom I've never heard of until now. I'm fairly certain she will be better known going forward. "Elles" does have weaknesses, but it also has impressive strengths. It establishes a place for Szumowska on the world-cinema stage. She is a filmmaker to watch.
"Elles" is beautifully filmed. Szumowska is a master of cinematography and mise-en-scene. In many instances, just the way a shot was composed took my breath away. Equally gorgeous was the editing, with cross-cutting that was consistently innovative and almost always perfect.
The film is masterfully acted, with the incomparable Juliette Binoche leading a superb supporting cast. Szumowska clearly knows how to direct actors and is able to handle middle-aged and young actors equally well, a rare skill. Every character felt authentic to me, from the teenagers to the fortysomethings. One of the hallmarks of a true artist, I believe, is the ability to empathize with characters of all ages -- seeing the world from their different perspectives.
The story line is as follows: A well-educated, middle-aged wife and mother (Binoche) is a Parisian journalist researching an article on young female prostitutes. We go along with her as she conducts several interviews with the young women. We also go along with the prostitutes on some appointments, so we get to know them first-hand as well. The film is almost as much about the young prostitutes as it is about the journalist, but it digs more deeply into the character of the journalist.
Szumowska's major interest is how the experience impacts Binoche's character. This journalist who has up until now led something like the perfect bourgeois life, finds herself distracted and irascible at home. I loved watching Binoche bring this vague ennui to life. She's not specifically unhappy about anything, but getting to know the prostitutes has vaguely unsettled her.
I love that the film doesn't get too specific about this. But this strength is paradoxically also a weakness. It gives the film a sketchy quality that can at times feel irritating, as if the film lacks a story arc. The film is also at times repetitious.
But overall, "Elles" is one of the most interesting pieces of work of the cinema season. In a year that has so far been incredibly disappointing with regard to cinema, "Elles" stands out as a brave and authentic work of art. A work of true cinema.
Elle columnist Binoche questions her bourgeois existence while researching an article on students who turn to prostitution.
It seems that almost every French movie now is directed by a foreigner. This year we've seen Pole Pawel Pawlikowski's "The Woman In The Fifth", Finn Aki Kaurasmaki's "Le Havre" and now this, another work from a Polish director. What all three share is that they all feel like parodies of French cinema, trading heavily on worn out Gallic cliches.
If you've seen Anne Fontaine's "Nathalie", remade as "Chloe" in the U.S, then this will seem very familiar, it's practically the same film. Binoche is one of those working women who only exist in fiction, somehow able to balance a career at one of the world's premier publications with raising two kids and preparing daily meals elaborate enough to make Nigella Lawson envious. When she begins spending time with students turned hookers Demoustier and Kulig, an existential crisis kicks in. Has she wasted her life? Should she instead have become a prostitute? Is it the fault of her bourgeois society that girls turn to this career choice? This is all played out with scenes of her masturbating frantically on the bathroom floor and offering her shocked husband drunken fellatio. If that's not enough, Szumowska pounds us with metaphors of how Binoche's domesticated life is turning against her; the fridge door won't close, saucepans and kitchen knifes provide minor injuries, and worst of all for a middle class Parisian, the electric corkscrew refuses to cooperate.
There are a few moments of unintentional hilarity, especially the dinner scene where Binoche imagines the hookers clients gathered around the table for a sing along.
Foreigners like Argentine Gaspar Noe and Austrian Michael Haneke have succeeded in France because they have something to say, Szumowska and her cohorts would rather masturbate through their contributions to Gallic cinema.
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