Elles (★★★ Empire review)

EllesSquareIn Polish writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska’s follow-up to the little-seen 33 Sceny z Zycia, Juliette Binoche plays an Elle features writer whose interviews with teenage prostitutes (Anais Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) cause her to examine her own form of bourgeois indentured servitude (marriage, kids). Binoche, whose investment in Polish cinema dates back to Three Colours Blue, gives a fearless, extraordinarily nuanced performance, complemented by the younger actresses. However, Szumowska’s insistence on staging the young prostitutes’ revelations as tastefully-lit and largely consequence-free sex scenes, depicted with an unashamed eroticism and gratuitous nudity, serves to undermine her cause – always assuming she set out to make an intellectually exploratory, 21st century Belle de Jour, rather than an art-house exploitation film. Although meticulously observed, intricately written and beautifully shot, Elles ultimately veers too much towards the latter than the former, which is a shame, because it could so easily have been a Shame. ★★★

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