Elles (18)

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Anaïs Demoustier

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The Independent Online

The Polish director Malgoska Szumowska's drama examines female sexuality as a force in the modern marketplace.

Juliette Binoche plays Anne, a Parisian magazine journalist investigating student prostitution via interviews with two young women, both of whom have escaped the poverty trap by selling themselves to men – "bored husbands", in the main. As Anne becomes more involved in the girls' stories she starts to wonder if there's something missing from her own comfortable bourgeois life.

The film presents some eye-catching sex, most of it so unthreatening you wonder if it's not somehow advocating prostitution: the worst thing that can happen, apparently, is for a client (still naked) to serenade you with a guitar rendering of "Autumn Leaves". There's a whispered suggestion that Anne, mother to a layabout teenager and wife to a porno-watching husband, is as much a "slave" as the young hookers, but that comparison won't wash. Anne is able to live with dignity intact and earn without risk – they can't. It may have something to say about "the male gaze", but dramatically Elles is pretty inert.