Special Treatment is a promising but ultimately frustrating film from French writer/director Jeanne Labrune that explores the worlds of prostitution and psychoanalysis. Isabelle Huppert plays Alice Bergerac, a cold and detached prostitute working independently and towards a growing collection of antiques, funded by her sought after role playing skills and studied characterisation. Like the parallel story of Xavier Demestre, a therapist with an unravelling homelife, Alice charges her clients for ‘sessions’. Booked in blocks of ten, the sessions begin with interviews to establish the type of character Alice will provide, a particularly good scene when she first meets Xavier. The commentary on acting as a kind of emotional prostitution and role play is prominent, albeit slightly obvious.
Although the performances are all fine, Huppert in particular, it’s the characterisation that feels problematic. Neither of the leads are especially sympathetic, and it’s never wholly clear where the director is taking us. She seems to have little respect for psychotherapy and the similarities between the two professions (such as the therapists trading patients like the prostitutes trade tricks) are broadly drawn. She gets her message across that psychoanalysis and prostitution are both essentially rooted in emotional exploitation and professional distance (whilst both in their own way therapeutic) fairly quickly, and leaves herself nowhere to go. There are interesting roads that could have been taken but instead we drift towards a generic redemptive ending.
- Alice : “Aren’t you tired of all this bullshit?”
- Xavier : “Isn’t bullshit what you do too?”
This kind of facile dialogue doesn’t help, and whilst there are interesting scenes it’s ultimately unfulfilling. It’s hard for me to watch Isabelle Huppert in much without thinking of her astonishing performance in The Piano Teacher (2001), and Special Treatment left me wondering how someone a little less afraid of the dark like Michael Haneke would have handled this material.
Special Treatment (Sans Queue Ni Tete) – 2010 – France – 95 mins – Dir : Jeanna Labrune
Screening as part of the French Revolutions strand at the London Film Festival on Tuesday 26th & Wednesday 27th October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff