Elles

Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska

> > Nov 22 2012

Elles - Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska
By Robert BellThough titillating in concept and certainly intriguing from a sociological standpoint, narratives about the commodification of the human body tend towards the same superficiality inherent in the act of purchasing a physical body. They typically vacillate between feminist allegory, harping on the presumed control that taking charge of cultural objectification gives women that take pride in their sexuality, and admonitory, implying punishment and denigration in an act often hyperbolically juxtaposed with traditionalist roles of women in society on the whole. Elles (Malgorzata Szumowka's strangely superficial and partially self-inspired — her father was a journalist and her mother a writer — take on the mother/whore dichotomy) attempts to bob between both perspectives, setting things up with frazzled working mother Anne (Juliette Binoche) interviewing college student prostitutes Charlotte (Anaļs Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig) for an article at Elle. Her banal domesticity — cooking dinners for her alpha-male businessman husband, doing laundry, mothering her smug son, casually masturbating on the floor — is mirrored with the experiences of her supple, young subjects, who describe being peed on, masturbating in front of their tricks and listening to them prattle on about their personal lives, all of which is shown in vivid detail. At first, they suggest empowerment and indifference to their trade, noting the financial benefits of paying for a post-secondary education with prostitution money and the seeming mundanity of the act with mostly married, generic men. It's this casualness that gives Anne (inexplicable) pause; she starts to question the role she plays in her marriage, acknowledging how commonplace it is for men to buy young girls to screw, pee on or play guitar for should their wives not oblige in their expected role as a commodity. And while this point and observation are valid, they're not particularly profound. In fact, it's really one of the initial tenets of introductory feminist and cultural theory, so to present it without expanding upon it is, in part, redundant. Even later in the film, when Szumowska eventually pulls the carpet out from under her three martyred subjects, showing an act with a champagne bottle not recommended by doctors, it comes as little more than a glib reminder of far more substantive and intellectual feminist texts of late, like Julia Leigh's brave and astonishing Sleeping Beauty. No supplements are included with the DVD, which is understandable given the limited audience for a film of this nature.
(eOne)
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