To the French movie, Elles, on the recommendation of A.
A is a breast cancer survivor who has a vision for a world in which people live to the age of 150. Depending on the age of the audience with whom she shares this vision, people either gasp at its audacity or frown with incomprehension, “why the hell …?”
One of the things A says about this world is that it will require women transforming who they are for men, and for their children. Said in a rigorous way, it will require women transforming who they are for themselves that they are for men and children.
Elles, it turns out, is all about this question.
It stars the glorious Juliette Binoche as a woman with two sons, a teenager and a boy of about 9 or 10, and a distant husband. She is a freelance journalist writing an article for the magazine, Elle, about young female students taking up prostitution as a way to make ends meet while at university.
She is in the midst of interviewing two such students: one, the daughter of a too-close Polish mother, tough, dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, lots of kohl, huge breasts, a grungier, younger Cameron Diaz; the other, the type of girl common to arty cities, brunette, naïf floral dress, delicate freckled skin, big brown eyes, rosy.
Not much happens in the movie. The students have graphic sex with a series of men, mostly middle-aged husbands, and they recollect the scenes for Juliette Binoche as she interviews them.
The girls’ matter-of-fact manner and what they describe begins to have an effect on her. She starts to wonder if there is a difference between herself and the girls, and allows herself to be seduced by the Polish girl during their interview.
She goes home and unpacks the groceries, puts on the Coq Au Vin for a dinner party with her husband’s boss and his wife, the fridge door doesn’t shut properly, she has an argument with her teenage son about going out, the son ignores her, tells her she should look to how she is herself, her husband asks her not to talk her “feminist talk” at the party.
The guests turn up and talk their boring talk, while she fantasises that the men with whom the students had sex are at the table, looking at her lasciviously.
She gets up abruptly and walks out the front door. The table goes silent. Her husband pokes his head out the door, shrugs, asks the guests if they want more salad. Next morning at dawn, she returns, walks back into the kitchen where her husband is sitting, waiting. He tells her he’s been worried, she tries to seduce him. He rejects her.
The next scene, the last in the movie, she and her husband and her sons are sitting at the breakfast table. It’s sunny. She tries to unscrew the lid of a jar, can’t do it and passes it to her husband. He mimes struggling with it, and they all start smiling, laughing, and continue with their breakfast.
Afterwards, I did a post-mortem on the movie with A. This is what we concluded:
The movie is basically unsatisfying; the director brings up the transgressive material and then doesn’t do enough with it.
The movie is about who women be for themselves and for the world, and whether other ways of being might be possible.
Juliette Binoche’s character recognises that somehow, somewhere, she trapped herself in inauthenticity; the rose red girl speaks for her when she is asked “What’s the hardest thing about being a prostitute?” and she replies, “Oh, of course, all the lies I have to tell”. Her attempts to free herself of her inauthenticity, however, are puny and clichéd. The final scene portrays her resignation to her state, papered over with a smile.
Juliette Binoche is one of the great beauties of the screen and has been so ever since she played Tereza opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and most unforgettably, Julie in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s, Three Colours Blue. For most of the movie she wears no makeup and the camera is close on her face and in love with it. For the umpteenth time, A and I ask ourselves, what is it that women like Binoche, French women, European women – I know a Polish woman who has it too – possess that transcends mere beauty, mere age? This magnetic, haughty, sexual womanliness, wherein does it lie?
If you enjoyed this post …
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy: