Isabelle Huppert, Bouli Lanners, Richard Debuisine, Frederic Pierrot
Jeanne Labrune, Richard Debuisine
First Run Features
Alice Bergerac (Isabelle Huppert) is a cold, calculating prostitute who has grown weary of her profession and decides to see a psychoanalyst, Xavier (Bouli Lanners), who is also in the midst of a bit of a mid-life crisis with his marriage in tatters and his life as seemingly uncertain as is Alice's. To say that French writer/director Jeanne Labrune weaves together prostitution and psychoanalysis would be an understatement - she practically marries the two.
While Special Treatment is far from a cinematic disaster, mostly owing to the convincing performances of its co-leads, the film ultimately proves to be quite the disappointment as Labrune's film lacks the usual intelligence and style we've come to associate with French cinema while Labrune's character development is so inconsistent that it's nearly impossible to gain any sense of emotional investment or connection to our central characters.
Special Treatment starts off slowly, painfully slowly, yet initially makes Alice a woman who seems, at least on some base level, to be an empowered woman who has a sort of dysfunctional heroism about her in the way she interacts with her clientele. This heroism evaporates, however, by the film's halfway point and is replaced with an Alice who comes off more as a victim than a victor. The character, by the halfway point, is interesting only because Isabelle Huppert, who could do this kind of role in her sleep, brings this 40ish woman contemplating major life change dramatically to life. Huppert's performance is revelatory even when the character's dialogue falls woefully short.
Bouli Lanners is fine, as well, but his character is similarly stifled by a tremendous lack of character development and a complete lack of sympathy. Without anyone to particularly care about, it's difficult to understand why anyone would need to see such a challenging film.
Labrune initially does a nice job of looking at the idea of "role play," an essential ingredient in the career choices of both Alice and Xavier. Yet, where Labrune fails is in presenting such a serious, involving theme while creating such uninvolving and un-evolved central characters to live it out.
Virginia Saint-Martin's camera work is fairly straightforward yet fine for the project, while the rest of the tech credits are solid throughout. In a film that so emphasizes role play, I would be remiss to not mention the Claire Frisse's imaginative costuming design.
Picked up by First Run Features for U.S. distribution, Special Treatment should play fine in its coastal dates but will likely experience a greater degree of success once it hits home video. Fans of Isabelle Huppert will want to catch the film for her performance, while fans of French cinema will likely find themselves at least moderately interested in themes that American films seldom have the guts to tackle. With a weaving together of drama with a good bit of dry humor, Special Treatment will likely be too uninvolving for most but some, perhaps, will appreciate its slower pace and drier approach to material that is often presented with significantly more emotion.
Special Treatment opens August 26th in New York and already has dates scheduled in Los Angeles and Denver. Watch for it at an arthouse theatre near you.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic