Director: Malgorzata Szumowska; Screenwriter: Malgorzata Szumowska, Tine Byrckel; Starring: Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier, Joanna Kulig, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing; Running time: 99 mins; Certificate: 18
Here's a self-satisfied film, in more ways than one. Juliette Binoche plays a sexually repressed journo for French Elle, interviewing two young women who fund their studies by selling their bodies. If it wasn't for Binoche, bravely dropping her barriers, it would disappear up itself.
Her character Anne is a bourgeois bag of neuroses (designer-labelled, of course) and she's made painfully aware of her shortcomings while interviewing Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig) for an article that seeks to explain the growing phenomenon of prostitution among young well-educated women.
Anne is scandalised because Charlotte and Alicja think nothing of having old men poke, paw and pee on them for thrills (all this, graphically depicted). "Don't you find it humiliating?" she asks. On the contrary, they claim to be more embarrassed by having "the stink" of working class heritage on their bodies. Are these girls naïve, enlightened or completely corrupt?
These questions are raised and never satisfactorily answered, either by Anne or by director Malgorzata Szumowska. The main focus is Anne's guilt for - indirectly - having put these girls in a compromising position. In other words, she begins to feel that if highfalutin women like her were more willing to bend to a man's whims, there would be no need for prostitutes.
Not only does Szumowska fail to flesh out Charlotte and Alicja (they bare more body than soul), at worst she suggests they're sexually liberated, in spite of the violence inflicted upon them. She cuts their kinky frolics against images of Binoche clumsily grappling with phallic objects - at one point almost punching her own nose trying to cork a bottle of champagne.
This naff symbolism is supposed to convince us that Anne is less worldly than her subjects. Later, the point is bluntly made with Anne on the bathroom floor, failing to gratify herself. Binoche's ethereal beauty is warped in a close-up that's shot from an extreme angle, producing a grotesque wall-of-mirrors effect. And yet, this also reveals a humanity that Charlotte and Alicja seem to lack.
Binoche exposes deep insecurities by asking herself the question: does being an uptown girl mean that hubbie (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) can't relate to her on the most intimate level? Aware of a growing distance in the marriage, she falls to her knees before him in a heart-breaking gesture that also sums up the angst of the modern woman - striving to be the ideal wife, mother and lover.
What a shame that Binoche goes all the way, only for the director to tell half the story. The unavoidable truth is that Anne's daily juggling act will always seem a trifle compared with the double life of a young prostitute. It's a problem compounded by Szumowska's sideways approach to Charlotte and Alicja, like a nervous kerb crawler, only concerned with selfish gratification.