Juliette Binoche plays Anne, an investigative reporter and mother juggling her household routines with the challenge of finishing an exposé on escorts and prostitutes in France. The stories of two escorts, Charlotte and Alicja, (Anais Demoustier and Joanna Kulig), are graphic, erotic and often violent, but the girls all seem to smile and laugh as they tell Anne the most extreme "occupational hazards," leaving Anne to feel the pain and humiliation for them, which is having an unwanted effect on her marriage.
Szumowska has made Elles an ephemeral, abstract story, leaving the visuals, particularly her love of close-ups, to fill in the colours of such a black and white narrative. Stories of prostitutes and escorts could easily become political or didactic, but she merely leaves you with an emotional impression, neither confirming nor denying your suspicions.
The scene juxtapositions pack a punch (one moment Charlotte is being penetrated with a bottle, the next Anne is masturbating on the floor, while one moment Alicja is being urinated on, the next she's singing along to Spanish guitar) and Beethoven's "9th Symphony" is put to good use.
You may walk out of the cinema not quite grasping Elles' hook, but from its first jarring images (of fellatio, no less), you'll be willingly taking the bait. (Canal)