A high-class prostitute and a psychoanalyst find they have more in common than just clients with unusual hang-ups in “Special Treatment,” the latest dissection of the discreet foibles of the Parisian bourgeoisie from director Jeanne Labrune (“Tomorrow’s Another Day”). Again co-written by and co-starring writer-thesp Richard Debuisne, pic has some of the duo’s trademark sharp dialogue but again fails to fully come together on a narrative level. With Isabelle Huppert and Bouli Lanners in the leads, and the promise of some kink a la francaise, pic could see some action in upscale Francophile arthouses and in ancillary.
Pic opens with a shot of an antique fruit bowl and a remark by Alice (Huppert), a woman of a certain age, that it’s a bit pricey. She then translates the price into the number of times she has to perform fellatio on one of her clients to pay for the bowl. Scene immediately establishes Alice’s down-to-earth approach to her line of work — and her incongruous interest in antiques.
Also interested in antiques is psychoanalyst Xavier (Lanners), who’s more in a rut than most of his clients, and whose wife (Valerie Dreville) wants a divorce. Taking the advice of a colleague, he calls Alice. In turn, the high-end call girl, who works alone out of a chic hotel room, thinks she might need the help of a shrink to finally quit her job, which is turning increasingly dangerous.
The narrative arc would seem pretty straightforward from there, but Labrune and Debuisne take several left turns to allow Debuisne’s character, Pierre, a hospital psychiatrist, more prominence in the pic’s latter reels. But despite the clever use of an objet d’art that is passed on among the protags, the intersection of Alice and Xavier’s lives with that of Pierre feels contrived. Pic works much better when it concentrates on its two leads, such as in the scene in which Alice sits down with the nervous Xavier to discuss, very matter-of-factly, what he’d like to do in the 10 sessions he’s paid for.
Typically for Labrune and Debuisne, the film is filled with pointed dialogue and double entendres (poorly conveyed in the subtitles). The screenplay also offers some fascinating observations on the many things Alice and Xavier’s jobs have in common. And, as in most French films, sex is more talked about than shown.
Huppert has played women of pleasure before (notably in Godard’s “Every Man for Himself” and Olivier Dohan’s “The Promised Life”) but she finds grace notes to her cold professional in the more warmhearted relationship she has with a colleague (Sabila Moussadek). Lanners, with a groomed beard and burgundy bow-tie, is more isolated — his wife certainly isn’t speaking to him — and is therefore harder to read, though the burly thesp makes the most of the scenes of light comedy in which his character hesitantly comes into contact with Alice.
Technically, the pic is respectable. Costume designer Claire Fraisse has a ball dressing up Huppert for the various role-playing games with her clients, with outfits ranging from dominatrix to ’50s housewife to schoolgirl. The score, mainly haughty strings, adds a veneer of classical respectability that complements the bourgeois setting.