Review: Ellen (2011)

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Ellen (2011)

Directed by: Malgorzata Szumowska | 96 minutes | drama | Actors: Juliette Binoche, Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Chyra, Ali Marhyar, Jean-Marie Binoche, François Civil, Pablo Beugnet, Valérie Dréville, Jean-Louis Coullo’ch, Arthur Moncla, Scali Delpeyrat, Laurence Ragon, Alain Libolt, Swann Arlaud, Nicolas Layani, Laurent Jumeaucourt, José Fumanal, Martine Vandeville, Jenny Bellay, Tom Henin

Over the years, the way in which prostitution is approached in Western culture has – of course, you could almost say – changed. Thus, depending on the prevailing zeitgeist, not to mention the chosen perspective, the prostitute is and is portrayed as a trafficker, pleasure seeker, feminist or victim. And we are probably forgetting a role or two.

All the aspects mentioned are united in Malgorzata Szumowska’s two independently operating normal girl prostitutes. Because everyday girls are the Parisiennes Charlotte and Alicja. Young students who would watch BNN in the Netherlands, and if the study grant plus parental allowance does not yet cover the rent, perform escort work for money. And discovering that the concept ‘sex is power’ in this capacity is gaining in importance, and the act with it in tension. They are cheerful adolescents, with sweet friends; girls who have yet to conquer their place in society and who are naive enough to think that they can realize this through something fun like sex.

For example, Alicja (Joanna Kulig) indulges in an aubade on guitar in a client’s bedroom after he pees all over her. And Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier) sometimes doesn’t feel like talking to her boyfriend when she has an exciting date coming up. A bit disconcerting, but also innocent, and therefore just enough material for a documentary about sex ethics among young people. Szumowska is able to credibly describe the experiences of Charlotte and Alicja, but where ‘Elles’ falls short is in the dramatic counterpart that is sought, namely in the dull life of the carefully typecast journalist Anne (Juliette Binoche) – lover of Bach and yet she misses something.

The fact that a woman becomes aroused in midlife by the (shadow) lives of the young ladies, whom she follows for a journalistic report, is not elaborated strongly enough. Concentrated but perfunctory, so that you don’t really commit to her, Binoche does her job; while the well-acting mademoiselles butterfly, give themselves away and act almost nonchalant about it. The semi-professional ‘friendship’ between the three does not even develop, it is presented as fact.

As a result, the film does not really come to life. In addition to half-hearted dramatic choices, underestimation of the viewer is a cause. In 2012, he has a richer palette of liberal ideas at his disposal than is presented in the film, and that should be the other way around – even if we take into account that this theme is treated more discreetly in France than in our regions. A second ‘Pianist’ was already not ‘Elles’, but an update of this 2001 classic would have created more waves.

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