Wavering between cinema and sociology, genuine drama and schmaltzy soap, the international co-production “Elles” tackles the issue of aging among fortysomething women. Starring five beautiful actresses — Spanish Carmen Maura, French Miou Miou and Guesch Patti, American Marisa Berenson and German Marthe Keller — the film begins well but then veers toward soap and sitcom territory, cramming within its short time frame just about any problem concerning middle-aged femmes one can imagine. Still, relevant subject matter and illustrious international cast might persuade a small distributor to release this meller in major American cities, with stronger prospects in European theatrical and ancillary markets.
Initial sequences promise something more in the vein of Almodovar’s “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown” than that of “On Golden Pond” or other social-problem melodramas about old age. Linda (Maura), a successful TV journalist, is dating a handsome man, Gigi (Joaquim De Almeida), but she seems unable to commit.
An accomplished literature professor, Eva (Miou Miou) is a desirable single woman who suddenly finds herself attracted to a student who happens to be the son of her friend Barbara (Keller). Regal and proud, Barbara, who has a catering business, is in the midst of divorce proceedings while her husband is dating a woman half his age.
As a beauty salon owner, Chloe (Berenson) has a job that forces her daily to confront the reality of looking older. Rounding out the quintet is Branca (Patti), a passionate but self-destructive actress-singer who becomes alienated from her adolescent daughter when the latter observes her making love during a rehearsal.
Unfortunately, Portuguese helmer and co-scripter Luis Galvao Teles’ heavy-handed psychology and middle-brow sensibility load the narrative with enough problems for an entire season of a TV series. In due course, each woman is asked to brave her “problem” and deal with it in an emotionally satisfying, mature manner.
All five actresses acquit themselves honorably, though each has done better work in previous films, and their beauty is accentuated by lenser Alfredo Mayo’s erotic camera.