Elles | Movie review
Juliette Binoche gets turned on by Paris call girls.
Journalist Anne (Juliette Binoche) is writing a major exposé for Elle: Working long hours into the night, she’ll soon blow the lid off the hot (and previously unexplored?) topic of Parisian prostitution. Apparently untouched by media-world financial woes and unencumbered by anything resembling ethics, Anne even offers to pay the call girls for their interviews. What she finds are two cash-strapped women (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who cross economic and national lines, both of whom have rationalized their entry into the oldest profession as a legitimate, risk-free way of making ends meet. That’s not exactly a revelation. A bigger surprise—in a development the movie never begins to justify—is that Anne finds herself drawn to their world, perhaps turned on. In other words, if it weren’t for Binoche, the tasteful widescreen compositions or conversations about johns who have the most delicious recipes for coq au vin with Riesling, you might mistake the premise of Elles for that of a cheap porno.
And that, despite the tony trappings, is about the level of seriousness it displays. It’s the sort of film that uses Beethoven’s Seventh to contrast idyllic trick-turning with Anne’s boredom at the breakfast table. Poorly structured, Elles toggles between the writer and her subjects without a clear organizing principle. “I’m not so sure they’re whores. No more than anyone else,” Anne tells her dismissive husband (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing)—a facile thesis that reeks of posturing. In this case, the NC-17 signals double-dealing: Here’s a movie that aims to be both erotic and outraged.