Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie with Abe: Special Treatment

Special Treatment
Directed by Jeanne Labrune
Released August 26, 2011

In the new French film “Special Treatment,” Isabelle Huppert stars as Alice Bergerac, a high-class prostitute who schedules rendezvous with clients and makes sure to keep things on her terms, adhering to fetishes and fantasies only as long as they don’t put her in any physical danger. When they do, she takes matters into her own hands to stay safe. She also expresses a desire to leave the profession, though she doesn’t have much of an idea of what she might do instead. It’s clear that Alice is someone who knows what she is doing, and she’s been doing it for so long that she doesn’t know how to do much else.

It’s that inability to let her guard down and just be herself that troubles Xavier Demestre (Bouli Lanners), a malcontent psychoanalyst who seems impossibly bored by his patients and no longer able to tolerate living with his wife. Their meeting comes at a point in both their lives where they could use someone to reenergize themselves. Alice, however, isn’t used to clients who are unassertive and don’t know what they want, while Xavier just wants Alice to be herself and not put on a show for him. In both cases, it’s a feat easier said than done.

While “Special Treatment” is, more than anything, the story of Alice and Xavier as separate people prior to and following their meeting, it doesn’t maintain a thin focus, exploring and spotlighting supporting characters to add considerably more depth and breadth to the overarching plot. Alice’s prostitute friend Juliette plays an important part in the story, and Xavier’s casual acquaintance and fellow therapist Pierre Cassagne also takes on a crucial role. That attention to tangents is both a positive and a negative, as the film begins to lose focus towards its finale, resulting in a less than satisfying conclusion.

Despite the presence of a supporting cast and their occasional involvement in the story, especially in the film’s third act, “Special Treatment” is largely a two-man show. Both actors manage to convey decades of experience in their respective careers with magnificent facial expressions and body language. It’s marvelous to see the two of them signal exasperation and then to come into contact with one another. Huppert displays a fervent energy and desire to be productive, while Lanners imbues Xavier with a biting sarcastic nature towards his patients and a stammering innocence towards Alice. More than anything else, “Special Treatment” is an intriguing character piece, and in that sense, it’s a marvelous success.


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