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Isabelle Huppert Plays a Call Girl

Tracy Quan interviews Isabelle Huppert about her role as a call girl in a new film called “Special treatment” for the Daily Beast. Read the full article with links “HERE”

In Special Treatment, a darkly entertaining film starring Isabelle Huppert, the famously enigmatic cinema icon plays a neurotic Paris call girl, Alice, who offers artisanal role-play sessions to a variety of men, including Xavier, the bumbling Lacanian psychoanalyst destined to change her life.

Special Treatment, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, shows how far we’ve come from the era when shrinks were godlike saviors preaching conformity to the deviants; and prostitutes, like gay people, were to be cured. (For a taste of pre-enlightenment, check out the recently remastered Girl of the Night, based on a pop psychoanalyst’s bestselling study of 1950s call girls.)

Shrinks today are more like angels than gods, and Special Treatment is filled with sly messages—and messengers. Director Jeanne Labrune, working with Huppert for the first time, treats Alice the prostitute and Xavier the shrink (played by Bouli Lanners) as anxiety-ridden entrepreneurs with similar hobbies and problems, collecting household curios, facing similar occupational hazards. Working at home is deceptively easy: Xavier’s marriage has been poisoned by a never-ending cycle of affluent obsessives and neurotics, while Alice (who refuses to work in a brothel with her buddy Juliette) is physically endangered.

In one riveting scene, she pretends to be an abused housewife in curlers rather than the independent working woman she truly is. Special Treatment is savvier than many films in presenting this toxic client as the turning point for Alice. The imagined impotence of the 1950s housewife turns out to be more dangerous than the ball gag or leather restraints used by another fetish client.

When Alice asks Xavier to help her find a therapist, he sends her to Pierre, a colleague he barely knows. Pierre (played by Richard Debuisne who co-authored the screenplay with Labrune) turns her down because, unlike Xavier, he prefers working with the most hardcore mental patients.

Rezo Films

I spoke to Isabelle Huppert a few days after she received the Locarno Film Festival’s Excellence Award. What did she learn from Labrune about the parallels between psychotherapy and prostitution?

As an actor, Huppert was attracted to Alice’s scattered personalities. “Sometimes you’re a Japanese manga schoolgirl or a 1950s housewife. You don’t know who you are,” Huppert told me, though she doesn’t claim to have suffered personally in that respect. “I was lucky enough to know very young what I wanted to do and I was lucky enough to do it with success from the start.”

Perhaps you have to be that solid internally to experiment successfully with what Huppert calls “that border between insanity and suffering, something I’ve experienced in so many of my movies.”

Special Treatment questions “all the borders between established people and nonestablished people,” Huppert explains. “The prostitute is supposed to be the lost person and Xavier’s supposed to be the one who is OK. The psychoanalyst is supposed to personify a good mental state. And yet we see two people who equally have problems. No matter where you are on the social scale, it’s not always the one you believe to be most in control who is really in control. We are all equally healthy or sick. There is no ‘normality on one side and abnormality on the other,’” she explains.

Huppert won Best Actress at Cannes in 1978 for playing an actual1930s schoolgirl prostitute in Claude Chabrol’s Violette Nozière, and she is equally convincing as a grown-up prostitute transformed by schoolgirl drag. She perfectly captures the jaunty, businesslike hooker enjoying the absurd side of her job.

“Pretending to be a little girl, especially next to this big fat man, is cruel and embarrassing. Just putting these two images next to one another, you come up with something quite strong and disturbing,” she says.

Although it’s never spelled out, we can’t help wondering if Alice has potential as a psychotherapist when Pierre observes her in conversation with an asylum patient.

“Alice needs help, but Pierre helps her by refusing to help her,” Huppert says. “He treats her like a human being, like a responsible person.”

Searching for a new job is, for many prostitutes, as scary and uncertain as any other person’s career transition. Unless you believe selling sex is an exotic and sick behavior, a myth some shrinks are happy to promote for their own ends. Pierre, detecting the bottom line in this hypocrisy, abstains from exploiting Alice’s suppressed shame.

“I was lucky enough to know very young what I wanted to do and I was lucky enough to do it with success from the start,” Huppert says.

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About Douglas Fox

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This entry was posted on 26 August, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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