Writer-director Jeanne Labrune affords Isabelle Huppert, arguably the finest French screen actress of her generation, yet another splendid role in the complex, compassionate and endlessly illuminating "Special Treatment."
Huppert plays Alice, an art history major who years ago became a high-priced Paris prostitute specializing in kinky clients who require elaborate role-playing on her part. She is a coolly proud, fearless woman, confident of her looks and abilities even as she approaches 50, though she finds it increasingly difficult to deny that her soul is withering away.
She crosses paths with Xavier (Bouli Lanners), a bulky and bearded middle-aged psychiatrist who is also feeling burned out in dealing with a nagging wife and with patients who are totally self-absorbed — and not so different from Alice's clients. "Special Treatment" is a serious film, but Labrune allows a touch of dark comedy in her depictions of Alice's clients and Xavier's patients.
That Alice and Xavier share a mutual acquaintance brings them together — just before she had planned to seek professional help from him. Instead, he seeks out her services, and an unexpected romance looks to be in the offing. But Alice has for so long been playing roles she is at a loss as to how to be herself with Xavier, which is what he craves from her.
"Special Treatment" concentrates more on Alice than Xavier in their struggles to work their way through their respective midlife crises. Their journeys are sharply yet kindly observed by Labrune. In addition to Huppert and Lanners, also impressive, the other key figure, a kindly and dedicated psychiatrist, is played beautifully by Richard Debuisne, who also wrote the film's script with Labrune.
"Special Treatment." No MPAA rating. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.