Why doesn't anyone make NC-17 movies about good sex? After the cinematic saltpeter dosage of Shame, the French prostitution drama Elles, opening Friday at The Belcourt, is the latest movie to use the NC-17 like a three-star Michelin rating applied to an electrified dog bowl.
Juliette Binoche, using the international symbol for serious acting (little makeup), plays an Elle reporter investigating the sex trade among French college girls (represented by Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig). Though it's directed by Poland's Malgorzata Szumowska, it's as schematic and cliché-ridden as any hack American TV movie: When the more fresh-faced of Binoche's subjects says she rather enjoys her work but forbids sodomy, you can set your watch by her inevitable comeuppance.
Even in her dumb uptight-bourgeois role, however, Binoche comes closest to escaping the movie's narrow conception. While connoisseurs of fetish on film will be happy to see some checklist items well outside the mainstream — golden shower, anyone? — what's most interesting about Elles is its place on The Belcourt's schedule.
While the just-concluding Cannes Film Festival has taken lumps for the dearth of female directors in competition, The Belcourt has quietly programmed film after film this summer directed by women: Mia Hansen-Løve's beautiful Goodbye First Love through Thursday; Bess Kargman's hit dance documentary First Position, drawing ballet lovers for another week; and coming soon, Your Sister's Sister with Emily Blunt and Rosemarie Dewitt, from Humpday director Lynn Shelton. That's not to mention the cult thriller Sound of My Voice, produced and written by its rising star Brit Marling (Another Earth), which opens June 15.
Those are elles worth celebrating.