I don’t really know what to make of Elles. It was very French, which oddly enough you’d expect, but also screamingly obvious with an air of trying far too hard to be different. If you look at French films, the majority of them have either Kirsten Scott-Thomas or Juliette Binoche as the protagonist, in this case the latter, and a vaguely taboo subject which for this film is prostitution. It ticks all the expected boxes but I felt like I was watching something that’s desperately trying not to tick them.

The basic story is interesting enough with Binoche playing a highly-strung investigative journalist for Elle magazine who is writing a piece on students in Paris becoming prostitutes to pay for their education. As she researches it by interviewing two girls, one sweet freckled one (Charlotte/Lola) and another feisty Polish girl (Alicja), she is forced to take a look at her strained marriage which sends her into the depths of her own insecurities and paranoia. The film covers a time period of 24 hours, from the first morning we see her to the morning of her deadline, but skips back and forth between interviews with two girls and even further back with their experiences. This jumping around is confusing at first because there’s no way of differentiating between the times until eventually you’re forced to work it out for yourself because otherwise the film really makes no sense, and in fact, it doesn’t make any sense until the very last scene. I spent the entire screening wondering what on earth the point was and which storyline we were supposed to be following, and it’s only in that final scene that you realize the film is actually about Binoche and not the two girls. Interestingly, you don’t find out her character’s name until the last twenty minutes but even this was an obvious effort at giving her the same anonymity as the girls she’s interviewed (although you do find out one of their real names) and it felt like a last ditch attempt at connecting the three of them.

But despite the “try hard” feel, there were two scenes that stood out amongst the woodenness of the rest of it. The first was a charming scene where Binoche, having declined a drink of vodka in an obvious attempt to keep her in control, ends up drunk, eating noodles and dancing with Alicja. For a woman who is so uptight, she needed this scene so she could appear more human and really this is the beginning of her humanizing and when we really start to see how her article is affecting her. The second is the finale to her madness and when she snaps. She is forced to sit quietly through a dinner with her husband’s boss and as everyone is talking, the camera moves to behind her and suddenly we see the world she’s living in. Every person at the table is a man described by the girls, each of them showing their characteristics. She has become possessed by the idea of bored husbands turning to these girls but when they surround her in her mind, she is at peace and even gives a contented smile. All of a sudden her husband is more affectionate and they’re comfortable with each other rather than snappy and awkward as we saw before.

It’s hard to sum Elles up. Binoche is undoubtedly a very talented actress but even she struggles to make you care about her and the film is so pretentious that it looses any meaning. I reckon France should stop trying so hard; their films are usually brilliant anyway.