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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with Juliette Binoche in ELLES, and Jane Fonda & Elizabeth Olsen in PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

I'm not sure I entirely get what ELLES, the new feature film from Malgoska Szumowska (the Polish-born filmmaker best known for her documentary work), is about, but with Juliette Binoche playing a writer who spends most of the film doing explicit interviews with two college students/prostitutes, maybe that's OK. Anne (Binoche) lives in Paris with her rich husband, one snotty teenage son, and another younger, more respectful son.

In a bad erotic drama or thriller, Anne might unlock some hidden desires in herself during the interviews with the two young call girls (Joanna Kulig and Anais Demoustier), and while a little of that does happen, most of the desires Anne uncovers scare her quite a bit. But more significantly, what emerges from her conversations is a new definition of independence and female empowerment that she (and probably most of the audience) is not at all comfortable with. Anne looks at her own life as wife, mother, writer and woman and is simply overwhelmed with regret, embarrassment and angst.

ELLES jumps back and forth in time over the course of several days, from when she separately meets her two subjects for many of their interviews. We also get peeks into the lives of the prostitutes, both on the job and how they first got into this particular line of work. By the time the film wraps up, we have fairly complete portraits of all three women, and not surprisingly none of them are especially happy with where they are in life, for different reasons.

As anyone who has seen her films knows, Binoche can deliver angst better than just about any actor working today, but I was also very moved by the performances of Kulig and Demoustier, who display a believability as women who stumbled into this work more out of necessity than desire. There's a level of fear at work in all three characters that makes their behavior sometimes unpredictable and always compelling, even if it doesn't always make sense. ELLES is an eerie and moving film that will likely spark man a conversation, which is always a good thing.

Man, is this a shit movie, and it's a shit movie despite a strong cast that includes the likes of Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jane Fonda. And the reasons for this movie being shit don't really have to do with the actors; they have to do with a shit script by Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert. And if you're already annoyed by my review of PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING, then you have a fraction of an idea of the agony I suffered watching it.

Nothing about this movie feels real, not even the characters, despite some commendable work by the cast, which also includes Nat Wolff as Keener's mopey son, Chace Crawford (as a love interest to Olsen, playing Keener's daughter), and Kyle MacLauchlan, as Keener's husband whom she announces she wants to divorce at the beginning of the film. But these actors aren't actually playing characters; they're approximating types. MacLauchlan and Keener are the couple whose marriage has become stale and boring; Wolff's character is a would-be filmmaker, who is always shooting home movies (he calls it a documentary) and referencing classic films; Olsen is a vegan, anti-establishment college student. You get the picture.

When Keener's Diane (a New York lawyer) leaves her husband, she takes the kids to her mom's place in Woodstock, so I don't see any potential for conflict between the uptight Republican attorney and a town filled with dirty hippies. Of course the kids take to the environment with some help from their hippie grandmother (Fonda) and the steady stream of friends and neighbors who pass through her door on a daily basis. As ridiculous as she may sound, Fonda isn't bad in the role of Grace, but so much of what her character has to do is just going through the motions of what a generic older hippie would do.

What almost makes PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING more embarrassing is that it was directed by once-great filmmaker Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY, TENDER MERCIES, BREAKER MORANT), who is just spinning his wheels with this paint-by-numbers material. Despite some solid attempts at humanizing, none of these characters feel like real people, and by the time Keener's prissy exterior begins to break down thanks to the charming Jeffrey Dean Morgan singing a duet with her of The Band's "The Weight" (one of the single most agonizing experiences hearing any song sung anywhere), I was ready to call this shit a day.

Without spoiling the ending(s), the final actions of Keener and the kids is so utterly ridiculous that that only proper response after viewing the film is to skip a day of recycling in protest of this horrid work. Do yourself a favor: find out where PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING is playing near you, and spend the whole weekend driving in the opposite direction. You'll thank me.

-- Steve Prokopy
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