This Paris-set, French-Polish film looks at issues of prostitution and female sexuality from the viewpoint of a metropolitan, middle-class journalist working for French Elle magazine – a viewpoint that writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska must assume makes the film’s issues all the more communicable but causes the film to be too skewed and distant to convince.
Anne (Juliette Binoche) is bouncing off the walls of her flat, dealing with errant kids and husband and trying to finish an exposé of girls who sell themselves to fund their uni education. Her deadline and increasing self-examination cause flashbacks to her interviewees – a Polish girl, Alicja (Joanna Kulig), and a French girl, Charlotte (Anaïs Demoustier) – whose graphic exploits we witness.
The film is too smart to present these girls’ experiences as universally horrific but it tips too far the other way, presenting an impression of empowerment alongside a dissection of brutal (and, for us, voyeuristic) exploitation. The main problem is not the film’s politics, which are open and provocative if a little heavy-handed and obvious, but its perspective. It feels like a portrait of a fleeting bourgeois crisis, something Binoche performs well but which feels skin deep when the film is flirting with more fleshy issues.