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Culture

Film review : Special Treatment

By Matthieu Boisseau
30/09/2010

Plot :

This is the story of a meeting between a high-class prostitute, Alice (Isabelle Hupert) who has become bored with satisfying her sex-obsessed clients, and a depressed psychoanalyst, Xavier (Bouli Lanners),  looking for paid sex, which will turn their ever-worsening lives upside down. 

The film in 3 words:

Audacious- Imagine a prostitute telling a psychoanalyst - who is also her client - : “let's pre-establish a 10 sessions program. If you break it or miss an appointment, you won't be reimbursed”. You may understand that Jeanne Labrune's new film entitled “Special Treatment” rests on the bold (yet not exactly original) analogy between prostitution and psychotherapy. In order to emphasize this idea, the French director of “Blood and Sand”, and “Vatel” has used every device at her disposal : a succession of mini scenes is the structure of the film, aiming at illustrating how similar the two jobs are. Before an appointment, both of the protagonists have the same inimitable and meticulous way of cleaning and tidying their "offices", and after it, of washing their hands with great care. Such systematic filming technique aims to convince the audience that the "services" which the two protagonists offer are identical, whether it be when they ask them to "lie down" during a "session", or the fee they ask for based on the length of it: a tongue-in-cheek comparison which will undoubtedly have you laughing out loud.

 

Risky- Imagine the frigid – but dramatically elegant – Isabelle Huppert wearing a teen's school uniform or dressed up as a peroxide blonde sadomasochist. This is a pretty big challenge, as the French actress could not be further from the stereotype of a prostitute, and the results are not always successful. She seems too well-mannered to be a hooker, and does not arouse sympathy as she is too “high-class” to look desperate. However, in every emotion she expresses, Isabelle Huppert is unbelievably touching if not credible. In reality, even if the role is not tailor-made (at all) for her personality and style of acting, she remains the great actress who is able to move you to tears at a glance. But one could still have the impression that she under-plays it slightly, as if she, herself, is not feel convinced that she can do Alice's character justice.  Unfortunately for us, she does not provide the spark that the screenplay needs to seduce.

 

Disappointing- Imagine that the two protagonists are so fed up with their jobs that they won't call their clients by their family name, but by what they will buy thanks to their charges. For example, the psychotherapist evokes the paintings he has bought thanks to "his neurotic” , and the prostitute names her future client “the chandelier". As a matter of fact, the client is only considered from a material and self-interested point of view. In other words, the film is a harsh criticism of psychotherapy, depicted as a dehumanized profession whose only goal is to accumulate money without caring about the patients' well-being. The portrayal is often disparaging to the point of being gratuitous- Labrune's comparisons sometimes sound like prejudices and feel excessively repetitive and ever so slightly like a broken record. For instance, admittedly the countless obsessive–compulsive disorders of all psychotherapists are funny, but whether or not it is necessary to film them throughout the entire film in order to illustrate that the practitioners are as ill as their patients is another matter. The problem is that the French film-maker has forgotten that the best jokes are the shortest. As a consequence this “Special Treatment” gets a "Disappointing", with neither brilliance nor wit to elevate it out of the ordinary. In the same vein, one could mention some far-from-subtle wordplays. For example the misunderstanding induced by the words “pipe” and “fellatio” (also "pipe” in French) as well as the homophony between “pouah” (a noise made to illustrate disgust) and "weight "(“poids” in French)- neither of which gain any points for originality.

The last disappointment is in the film’s inability to illustrate the interactions between the two protagonists and the way in which they end up helping each other,- surely the most interesting point of the film. This is due to the regrettable introduction of a third main character, the virtuous psychotherapist Pierre Cassagne. Even though he is played by the brilliant Richard Debuisne, this is the nail in the coffin for the film, as any appealing meeting between Alice and Xavier with him acting as the go-between and rescuer. To top it all off, the director makes the mistake of ending the film with a fatal dose of self-righteous moralising with Alice's final visit to a disabled centre. 

The conclusion? The film had potential, it could have been original and seductive, unfortunately the end product was a disappointment. A dose of humour would have been a welcome addition to the film, but it seems that Juliette Labrune was taken in by the seriousness of her own analogy, and the film has suffered as a result.

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