Monday, April 30, 2012


Malgoska Szumowska’s Elles references many films both in the feminist and modernist canon. The life of the journalist who is doing a piece on prostitution, Anne (Juliette Binoche), is curiously reminiscent of the mundane existence of the prostitute portrayed by Delphine Seyrig in Chantal Akerman’s classic Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. The scenes of Binoche on the toilet with their extra added mundanity recall Nichole Kidman on the loo in Eyes Wide Shut. The theme of prostitution as a metaphor for the commodification of human existence naturally recalls Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. And then there is the almost romantic concept that the prostitutes in the film have a certain freedom which their interlocutor lacks, locked as she is in her bourgeois existence, a highly perverse reference to Ibsen’s Doll’s House (Anne being a Nora in feminist drag). Does Binoche’s character envy her subjects? If nothing else she is stimulated by them. A scene of anal rape with a wine bottle enables Anne to masturbate, one of the scant releases (one wouldn’t say pleasures) that the film depicts her experiencing and references both Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour and Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter. In the end, however, Elles is a curiosity that has less to do with feminism than modernity itself. In Marx’s early writings (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844), industrialization and the division of labor alienate man from the objects of his creation and Szumowska’s film is ultimately an across the board indictment of upper middle class existence. The family with their constant cell phoning, the computer games, the computer porn and the refrigerator door that refuses to close are strangers in their own lives. Anne is not suffering because she is a woman.  Rather, she’s a post-feminist character who is, like he rest of her menage, drowning in something more numbing and less easily pinpointed than ideology.

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