Special Treatment

| January 17, 2012

A provocative parallel between two seemingly unrelated professions and a bare and audacious performance from celebrated French screen actress Isabelle Huppert are the only two elements of Special Treatment that keep us engaged or even attentive. The film, written and directed by Jeanne Labrune, keeps us drudging along a tedious exploration of potentially interesting characters and themes.
Several years in their respective professional fields have left a man and a woman bored, disconnected and cynical. The woman, Alice (Isabelle Huppert), is a long-time, high-end prostitute who in her middle age provides atypical sexual scenarios for her clients. She performs in more ways than one, putting time, money and effort into bringing fantasies to life, from the common school-girl dream to creating a fake crime scene to bring an element of danger into it, straying away from the conventional hooker experience.
Despite all the work she puts into her job, she lacks enthusiasm– in fact, she seems rather dead inside. Her efforts to engage are limited with no traces of desire, pleasure, interest and seems to abhor men altogether.
Xavier (Bouli Lanners) has also grown disinterested with his clients. The weary and scornful psychiatrist’s discontent travels outside of his office, but not far, into his marriage. His wife is in the same field and their offices are inside their home, where they throw fancy parties for other fellow analysts.
Xavier’s crumbling life leads him to Alice and on their “preliminary date,” the business-like meeting leads to introspection– whatever they see in each other forces them inward to see the point’s of their own vexation.
Isabelle Huppert, considered by many to be the best French actress of her generation, known for her bold choices and probably best known for her role in The Piano Teacher, is exquisite and deeply engrossing. It is hard not to admire her throughout the film as she carries the complexity of Alice so effortlessly, with an aura of confidence and firmness, trimmed by vulnerability and sadness. The contempt Alice feels for her clients, the fatigue she feels toward her job illuminate through the stern backbone she displays. Lanners is able to radiate the same negative energy which blisters every scene he is in, permeating through few words and silence alike.
The illustration of both prostitution and psychiatry as professions that expensively exploit the week is an interesting one that is executed rather clearly, but also in a rather safe way. By the end Alice and Xavier seem more like strangers than they were in the beginning of the film. Everything is so internalized and mute that even if we get it, we might not care that much. There is an intimacy that feels unwarrantably absent, and its not the lack of sex, because that actually works rather well.
What is supposed to be both an erotic drama and a journey is actually neither. But, I don’t think it is supposed to be erotic at heart of it– its lack of sexuality is necessary to understand the two main characters. It is the lack of connection and passage for it to truly matter to us. The 58-year-old Isabelle Huppert is always worth watching, and her performance in Special Treatment, is poignant and beautiful, but cannot connect the dots alone.

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