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Suzanne Lynch

Festival reporter with coverage from Festivals in New york and Northern America
Next on the list will be Tribeca: watch out for the dailies.



Fest 21 (Suzanne Lynch) sat down with Malgoska Szumowska and Joanna Kulig, the director/co-writer and young co-star of ELLES, a film in which Juliette Binoche plays a journalist from Elle magazine (and bourgeouis housewife) who becomes too close to her subjects while researching an article on student prostitution in Paris.

The film (which hints at voyeurism repeatedly in brief gotcha moments) features a stringy-haired and perpetually stressed-out Anne (as tightly plugged into her claustrophobic Parisian apartment as the champagne cork she struggles to pop in one particular montage) who must finish and turn in her prostitution article at the same time she must prepare a dinner party for her husband's boss.

When not coping with her two checked-out sons (one who skips school to do drugs), Anne mulls over the choices and attitudes of the student prostitutes - Charlotte (Anais Demoustier) who is driven by the "stench" of the French lower-middle class; and the Polish girl, Alicja, who appears more motivated by economic necessity and misplaced affect.

While Binoche's deep humanism (and incandescent beauty, even without a stitch of makeup) brings life to her role in the home, and sets the scene for why Anne might be fascinated by a less repressed life, her scenes with the young girls are simply not as believable. The too-instant chemistries (aided by vodka in one instance, and complete with images of Anne with a mouth full of half-digested pasta) stretch the imagination about the speed at which the professional turns personal. 

But it's the sex scenes with the young girls and their various lovers that are the most graphic and heartbreaking. Not only is there is no clear explanation of how these girls seem to attract only affluent married men with their blanket advertisements on the internet, there is the uneasy feeling they are being used just as much for the possible titillation and sexual fantasy fulfillment of the film's audience as they are by their clients.

-- Suzanne Lynch


What was your greatest surprise or discovery during the process of making this film?

Joanna Kulig:  I think for me it was very interesting... the process. At the beginning it was very exciting but I was nervous... I knew it was a very difficult part and I knew it was about prostitution and about the sexual scenes so I thought it would be a very difficult part for me. But I love the Chekov system... how to become the character, be a different person, and I started to prepare everything.

In the beginning I was so scared about the sex scenes...I felt so stressed...but after I said to myself I have to understand this personality. I started to speak to Malgoska (about the character) and I said why (does she do this?)?  This is prostitution...and she said you would be surprised these girls they don't think like that ...they are very smart, intelligent and they don't see the problem with this. They said no, we don't do prostitution, we do sponsoring and there is a big difference. We decide who are our sponsors and if we don't want, we don't want. I understood this, so after, I started to create... a stronger mind girl. 

So when it came to the shoot the sex scenes, I knew her motivations. And I was surprised because I wasn't stressed. I knew everything about the character.  The nudity suddenly became a costume. And this was a surprise for me.

There have been strong reactions to your film, from those who think it's a true exploration of feminine sexuality to those who think it verges on soft-core porn. Are these reactions to your film what you intended?

Malgoska Szumowska.  This is what I intended. I mean in a sense that kind of film has to divide the people. It would be different, I would be disappointed somehow if it didn't. Because the film it's what I feel about the subject, and people are completely different.  That's why I expected somehow that the reaction would be divided. Some people are going to love it, and some people are going to hate it. I'm not judging you know. I'm not judging those girls. I'm not talking in the moral tone. For many people it's ...they don't accept it... they think if it's the prostitution... this is something which is bad. And the artist has to judge that they are doing the wrong thing. In my opinion I cannot judge them, because the artist is not a person who has to set the moral paces of life... I think the artist is someone who is asking questions about society, about feelings, about sexuality.

For instance, there is even a difference between me and Joanna because for Joanna those girls...they are prostitutes and this is something wrong. For me, not, they are not prostitutes in that bad sense. I think prostitution is ok. If prostitution is the choice of a woman, I don't have too much against this, if you know what I mean. And all of these this is destroying these girls minds and everything...ok...but maybe in another case there is something different which destroys our minds or our hypocrisy or living with the family and pretending it's a perfect life, but it's not. Lying. There are so many things might be traumatic for us and I'm just asking ourselves why.

What research did you do to prepare for the film and what inspired you the most? 

Malgoska Szumowska.  The producer she found the line from the newspaper...there is big problem with student prostitution in universities in Paris. I said to the producer I can do the film but not only on the social aspect because I am not interested in judging or to make a social film about those kinds of girls who are poor and they have to make sex for money. I was searching a character who is closer to me, a lot closer to my age, and that's why I decided to make her a journalist. And then I went to meet a girl that I found on the internet and I walked into the restaurant quite certain that I would meet somebody who is ashamed of what she is doing. I met a girl who was very intelligent, she was very normal, very elegant, and she was absolutely not ashamed. For me, it was hard to start asking her (questions)...and she was like, no, no, I did it for years and my last client became my we are planning to have a kid. And I said, ok , but he is not angry with you? and she said no he is accepting...even it's exciting for him that I have had a lot of is his sexual fantasies...we are very happy and we are going to have a kid and now I quit. And I ask her how do you feel about your it heavy for you and she said no it's not heavy - I don't understand your question. So it was the opposite of what we were expecting. And she didn't pretend. She said also that very often it was a pleasure for her to have all these clients, that she likes sex and she knows a lot about sexuality now and that it gave her lot of pleasure...and of course some guys were not handsome or whatever but usually she was satisfied. After the two hours of conversation, I was a bit shocked. But not in a moral sense. I just expected something completely different. And then I said to myself, this is the good idea for the film. It's very realistic. Now a lot of people are saying the film is not realistic.... But it's not true....But those people they don't speak with these kinds of girls and I think they have a problem with the film because have a cliché in their head about what is prostitution. And they are not following modern times, because society is changing. 

How do these girls seem to have only bourgeouis married men as clients?

Malgoska Szumowska. It's very easy....they are putting announcements on the students wants to have a sponsor or to have a dinner with a sponsor, etc and usually they have more than 150 answers back. They ask for a picture, without a picture they will not meet the men. And they can choose from 150 pictures. They can choose by the picture, if someone looks classy or rich or whatever and the way they are writing, if there is good grammar, if somebody who looks educated, from the way he is writing back. They are very smart. Usually they are dating the same men. 3 or 5 men. They are trying to be a kind of relationship, not the real relationship, but kind of like having the dinners.

Do you think there is a big divide between the generations when it comes to love and sex?

Malgoska Szumowska. Yes, we have a generation in the 70's it was very open- It was a sexual revolution. It was a kind of sexual revolution. But when I was a teenager and 20 something it was the time of Freddy Mercury died and it was the AIDS paranoia...our sexual behaving was much more closed because people were afraid of AIDS. Also Poland is a very Catholic society. Nowadays, people forgot about AIDS, somehow I don't know why, because it still exists but we are not talking anymore about AIDS, because there are some medicines. Because those people are not dying as fast, they are dying just longer.

The young generation in Poland, they are free of Catholic tradition, they don't care anymore. And they treat sex like eating, for them it's normal to go to the party on the weekend, and to have sexual contact with someone they even don't know.  For me, it's a big difference between my generation and the generation now.

Do you think marriage is a form of prostitution?

Malgoska Szumowska. Kind of...yes, it is...I agree with this. There are many forms of prostitution in our life, it might be a marriage but it might be also work that you are doing, your job, if you want to be stronger, better. There are a lot of deals. Like in marriages that are really typical deals--- men want a woman at home who is cleaning and having the children and she's not working. And also in work it might be prostitution, when you so deserve to have success and you are doing everything around just to make a career, is also a kind of prostitution.

There is a scene when Alicja asks Anne if she has any Arab friends. Anne says no, but that she is not prejudiced. Alicja says, "Oh you mean like all the French people." What were you trying to illustrate here?

Malgoska Szumowska. The truth. I was kind of shocked because I used to live there like more than half a year, and I noticed sometimes people going without a ticket and sometimes even I would travel without a ticket...I can tell you honest...sometimes in the Paris metro. But the guards are mostly checking people of different colors. They are not checking the white people. They are checking the Arabs. They are checking black people.

But even when you are talking with the people who are working in the film industry - you know, completely open - they have nothing against Arabs, etc - but if you go to their houses for the party, they have only white people.  That's it. And I'm not judging again. I'm just a bit surprised. And that's why I said, we have to use this dialogue.

What was your greatest surprise or discovery during the process of making this film?

Malgoska Szumowska. I think I didn't expect the way of working with Juliette Binoche. I liked her acting, but I thought she would be very professional, and she is not so professional. A good actress is somebody who is extremely free inside. She came on set and she was like fire. It was like one take and then another. And in each take she did completely different things. My cinematographer said, Oh My God she doesn't fix things. She is not fixing things. She's very, very dynamic, very open. She is not a professional actress in the sense of somebody who knows all her lines, who is ready, who is very prepared, who is like the best pupil in the class. This type of lightness that she has, the fact that she is searching, by her heart, by her intuition, is like a compilation of all arts, not only films. This was the biggest event for me. To see how she works and how she works with you.




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About Suzanne Lynch

Lynch Suzanne

Suzanne Lynch is a New-York based PR/Marketing consultant and actress who enjoys teaching private French lessons ( in her spare time.

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