Toronto International Film Festival 2011: ‘Elles’


Director: Malgorzata Szumowska

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Joanna Kulig, Anaïs Demoustier

Country: France / Poland / Germany

Juliette Binoche plays a top-flight investigative reporter for Elle magazine who has been tasked with an article on students who turn to prostitution to pay their bills. To that end, she has interviewed a pair of young women (one a working class social climber and the other a Polish immigrant) and is now sitting at her desk reflecting on what they have told her, what they have been through, and the ways their stories conflict with her own feminist assumptions about sex work.

The film flashes back and forth in time — though it is never entirely clear if what we are seeing is what actually happened or Binoche’s imagined version these events — and we are caught up in a bit of confusion from time to time over just when and where we are. While this technique can be used to great effect — see Burning Man and Martha Marcy May Marlene at this very Festival for successful examples — in this film the pieces don’t fall together so much as feel mashed into place.

Although in some ways a seductive feminist study of sex, power, and commerce — for Binoche is writing this article for money, we cannot forget — the overall impression by film’s end is one of bewilderment rather than contemplation. Strong performances from Binoche (has she ever been less than masterful?) and newcomers Anais Demoustier and Joanna Kulig (as her subjects) don’t quite make up for it. However, the fabulous use of Beethoven’s 7th symphony as poetic backdrop to a thoughtful scene lingers in the memory, as do the many sex acts we are shown (each of which is raw and unsettling in quite unerotic ways).

RATING 6 / 10