Elles Hansel & Gre­tel: Witch Hunters

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

THE past cou­ple of years have seen sev­eral films deal with the con­tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non of what might be called ‘‘ ama­teur’’ pros­ti­tu­tion, the en­try into the world’s old­est pro­fes­sion of stu­dents and other young women forced by the global eco­nomic cri­sis to find lu­cra­tive ways to sur­vive in an in­creas­ingly stress­ful world. Aus­tralian films Sleep­ing Beauty and Care­less Love are just two of sev­eral films from dif­fer­ent coun­tries that have tack­led this sub­ject. Now comes Elles, a French-Pol­ish-Ger­man co­pro­duc­tion made by a Pol­ish woman di­rec­tor, Mal­go­ska Szu­mowska, in which the cen­tral char­ac­ter, Anne, played by Juli­ette Binoche, is a Paris jour­nal­ist re­search­ing an ar­ti­cle about con­tem­po­rary pros­ti­tu­tion for Elle, a monthly mag­a­zine. Anne is well-to-do, with a busy hus­band, Pa­trick (Louis-Do de Lenc­que­saing), who is both dis­tant and de­mand­ing, and two sons who are each, in their dif­fer­ent ways, ad­dicts — Florent (Fran­cois Civil) to mar­i­juana and Stephane (Pablo Beugnet) to video games. Poor Anne doesn’t stand a chance in this male-dom­i­nated en­vi­ron­ment, and the sit­u­a­tion is mak­ing her in­creas­ingly re­sent­ful and un­happy.

Com­mit­ted to writ­ing an ar­ti­cle about con­tem­po­rary pros­ti­tu­tion, Anne has placed ads in news­pa­pers that have re­sulted in con­tact with two young women, Char­lotte (Anais De­moustier) and Alicja (Joanna Kulig). Both work in­de­pen­dently and both ap­pear per­fectly happy with the choices they have made. Char­lotte can af­ford a much bet­ter apart­ment than the one she had be­fore she be­came a sex worker, while Alicja, who is Pol­ish, can af­ford the smart clothes she likes to wear. We see th­ese women in in­ter­views with Anne and at work with clients, in scenes that have earned the film its R18+ rat­ing, though no ac­tual hard-core ma­te­rial is in­volved.

Szu­mowska and her co-screen­writer, Tine

(R18+) ★★★✩✩ Lim­ited na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day ★✩✩✩✩ Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day

(MA15+) Byr­ckel, ap­pear to be­lieve a woman in Anne’s po­si­tion is just as guilty of pros­ti­tut­ing her­self as the women she in­ter­views. As she strug­gles to meet the mag­a­zine’s dead­line she is also in­volved in pre­par­ing an elab­o­rate meal (coq au vin with ries­ling, the same dish one of the pros­ti­tutes learned from a client) for Pa­trick’s boss and some busi­ness col­leagues. With sons who de­spise or ig­nore her and a hus­band who ob­nox­iously uses her, can Anne (the film asks) really claim to be a free woman? The point is need­lessly un­der­lined when she rubs lo­tion on the feet of her hos­pi­talised fa­ther (Jean-Marie Binoche), a scene staged to em­pha­sise her sub­servient sta­tus.

For the most part, the clients of Char­lotte and Alicja ap­pear to be con­sid­er­ate and de­cent, more so than the men in Anna’s life, though there’s a no­table ex­cep­tion in one sadis­tic cus­tomer who re­minds us that life as a sex worker is fraught with haz­ards. None­the­less, in or­der to bol­ster its po­si­tion, the film tends to em­pha­sise the up­scale side of the ‘‘ busi­ness’’, and many may find ob­jec­tion­able the very con­cept, even though it car­ries a cer­tain amount of weight.

The film is strong on per­for­mance, with Juli­ette Binoche giv­ing a typ­i­cally ro­bust and nu­anced por­trayal. I was in­ter­ested, too, to see Krystyna Janda, the Pol­ish ac­tress who gave no­table per­for­mances in sev­eral Wa­jda, Zanussi and Sz­abo films of the past, ap­pear­ing as Alicja’s mother. IF you thought Abra­ham Lin­coln: Vam­pire Hunter was bad enough, Hansel & Gre­tel: Witch Hunters is here to prove you wrong. Grue­somely vile and vi­o­lent, this lu­di­crous af­fair rev­els in scenes in which women are punched, kicked and bru­tally man­han­dled, while men are torn apart or sim­ply crushed. It’s all in good fun, of course, as the Nor­we­gian writer-di­rec­tor, Tommy Wirkola, as­sured a pre­view au­di­ence, while not­ing that he got the idea while study­ing film at the Bond Univer­sity in Queens­land.

The ‘‘ idea’’ is that Hansel and Gre­tel, the fairy­tale sib­lings, sur­vived in­car­cer­a­tion in the candy house by burn­ing the wicked witch alive — a grisly cur­tain-raiser that sets a low bar for what is to fol­low. Some time later Hansel (Jeremy Ren­ner) and Gre­tel (Gemma Arter­ton) have be­come bounty hunters, trav­el­ling around Cen­tral Europe in search of witches to kill. They wind up in Augs­burg — cre­ated on the sound­stages of Berlin’s Ba­bels­berg stu­dios and look­ing for all the world like a tacky stu­dio set from a cut-rate TV drama. In this small town, the mayor is sup­port­ive but the sher­iff is not; it doesn’t mat­ter much, be­cause the lat­ter, played by Swedish-born Peter Stor­mare, won’t be around for long. It seems that a coven of witches, led by Muriel (Famke Janssen play­ing most of her role un­der heavy make-up) is kid­nap­ping chil­dren in prepa­ra­tion for some Sa­tanic rite to take place in the near fu­ture, and our heroes are de­ter­mined to stop it.

In their leather gear and clutch­ing their ab­surdly over-sized weapons (some kind of cross­bow for Gre­tel and a weird-look­ing au­to­matic gun for her brother), the sib­lings set out on their mis­sion. They’re joined dur­ing the course of the film by an odd col­lec­tion of al­lies. Ben (Thomas Mann) is a fan-boy who turns up with a scrap­book con­tain­ing clipping of all their ex­ploits. Mina

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