The story concerns an upper-middle class Parisian journalist, Binoche, who pursues her magazine editor's assignment that causes her to re-evaluate not only her marriage but herself. Binoche is quite amazing in the role, but this is nothing new for an actor of her caliber. The other actors are all competent, but none possesses the charisma and presence that Binoche is able to utilize to great impact when Szumowska and Tine Byrckels' script fails to articulate what she is required to show us.
The main problem with this film is the director's determination to explore the professional lives of the young women Binoche's character decides to interview and ultimately even follow in pursuit of a story about immigrants and prostitution.
We waste time behind doors with these young women and their "johns' and "boyfriends" --- and Szumowska seems to be confused if she it striving to make a valid commentary about prostitution or is she is more interested in simply being provocative. When it comes to the two younger female characters, it often feels a bit like a late night cable attempt at "edgy" erotica. It doesn't work or sever the film well.
The real power of the film is the impact of both the exploitation of these women and strange mix of pity and jealousy of these two near-broken lives. Binoche's "Anne" is both repulsed and attracted to the idea of being paid for sex. The girls' stories serve as a sort of disturbing eroticism for her.
She begins to project their adventures on to her marriage and life which she has become bored. When the film focuses here, it is amazing.
As the film nears its end we see Anne slip into fantasy at an awkward dinner party. Anne is desperate for more, but she may or may not be smart enough to realize that these new "desires" are mired within a degrading objectification of female as "sexual receptacle."
These girls are more than that. As is Anne. But our director is smart enough not to give too much away regarding how Anne will re-assert her sexual identity.
I can't help but wonder if part of this film's problem has to do with the fact it has been written from the viewpoint of French as Second Language artists. Maybe something gets lost in translation.
The sex scenes feel out of place and more graphic than required. But Juliette Binoche is an endlessly fascinating actor -- it is her performance that keeps us watching and saves the movie.
In reality, the movie goes down this path, but pulls its punches and goes nowhere. For all the nudity and sex, the movie isn't that gritty, ultimately.
I was expecting a profound ending, but was very disappointed. There is no life changing, just voyeurism.
Solid performance by Juliette Binoche in the lead role. Good support from a cast of unknowns.
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.