Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
France/Poland/Germany, 2011. Slot Machine, Zentropa International Poland, Zentropa International Koln, Canal+ Polska, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Shot – Szumowski, Liberator Productions, Polish Film Institute, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutscher Filmforderfonds, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Procirep, Angoa-Agicoa, Haut et Court, Memento Films International, Potemkine Films, Kino Swiat, Cofinova 7, Arte / Cofinova 6, Soficinéma 6. Screenplay by Tine Byrckel, Malgorzata Szumowska. Cinematography by Michal Englert. Produced by Marianne Slot. Music by Pawel Mykietyn. Production Design by Pauline Bourdon Pillot. Costume Design by Katarzyna Lewinska. Film Editing by Jacek Drosio, Francoise Tourmen. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
Juliette Binoche plays an Elle Magazine journalist who is writing a paper on college girls who work as belles de jour, specifically two young women who are putting themselves through school by turning tricks at night. One of them, played by Anaïs Demoustier, is from the low-income banlieu and tells Binoche that she has become addicted to the money very quickly. The other, played by Joanna Kulig, is a Polish student who fell on bad luck very soon after her arrival in Paris and found this to be a great way to survive the financial demands of the City of Lights. Binoche listens to them as they describe (and we see reenacted) their experiences with their clientele, some bizarre, some banal and one particularly cruel, while at home she struggles to deal with her frustrations with her family: she and her husband aren’t getting along, her one son is addicted to video games and her elder teenager is playing truant from school. Despite benefiting greatly from having someone as detailed and intelligent as Binoche playing the lead role, there’s no hiding the fact that director Malgorzata Szumowska is so engrossed in putting across the issues that have inspired this film that she forgets to really get any drama out of it. The young women working the world’s oldest profession are sympathetic and interesting but there’s no sense of really investigating who they are, while in writing about them and learning about them we don’t actually get to see much of an effect on Binoche’s feeling on the subject. A centerpiece sequence involving her getting the house ready for her husband’s boss coming over for dinner, basically an ironic pitting of her own conflict with domestic duties (and all the painfully unsubtle symbolism of the injuries she suffers) against the process of women surviving economically by providing fantasies to strange men, is the closet thing we get to some kind of introspection, but it’s not enough and the end result feels flimsy.