Ben Foster and Lubna Azabal in "Here." (Strand Releasing )
In the film "Elles"from director Malgoska Szumowska, Juliette Binoche plays a Paris magazine journalist who interviews two young women (Anaïs Demoustier, Joanna Kulig) putting themselves through school working as prostitutes. The girls envy her bourgeois stability while she comes to want their self-possessed freedom, though the lives of all three are shown to be not quite so clear-cut.
Binoche proves why she is such a world-renowned actress with the way she conveys ideas flickering across her brow and flashing behind her eyes. That skill makes her especially adept at portraying a journalist sitting in front of a computer or padding about her nicely appointed apartment, trying to focus on work but letting her mind wander to the laundry or the dishes or assorted distracted reveries.
The film is ratedNC-17, and even though the sex is explicit, it feels natural to the story — designed less strictly for shock-value than in the recent"Shame."Szumowska frequently skirts the line of becoming a euphemistically "European" film before undercutting an erotic moment with a jolt.
As an essay on women's roles in society and cross-generational female desire, the film provides many questions with no easy answers. It's tempting to call "Elles" some kind of thinking-person's sex movie, but it's more about thinking and about sex (and thinking about sex) and is far more likely to encourage awkward, emphatic conversation than post-show friskiness.
"Elles." MPAA rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content; in French and Polish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.
Consolidating an empire
Empire building carries none of that modern-day angst or ambivalence in "Fetih 1453," an epic about the Ottoman Empire's 15th century consolidation. The movie, a hit on its home turf of Turkey, is a straight-up shot of martyrdom and extravagance, honor and glory. Its stateside appeal will be limited to seekers of old-fashioned historical spectacle with a minimum of nuance.
The hero is young Ottoman sultan Mehmet (Devrim Evin), prophesied as conqueror of Constantinople, capital of Byzantium and the easternmost outpost of the Roman Empire. Setting out to achieve what his father couldn't — to capture the city and unite Rumelia and Anatolia — he wages war with low-key determination and lots of slo-mo spearings.
The story's charisma factor lies in its romance between hunky swordmeister Hasan (Ibrahim Celikkol) and Era (Dilek Serbest), daughter of engineer Urban, whose super-cannon proves crucial to Mehmet's military campaign (and whose mercenary aspects the film excises). While Mehmet's seldom-seen wife dabs her wrists with jasmine, Era works alongside her father in the foundry, plucky and almost jarringly contemporary.
Director Faruk Aksoy divides his nearly three-hour movie among battle sequences, the love story and the various halls of power. He goes for grand scale, if not cinematic inventiveness, and presents the intrigue in straightforward fashion, more expository than scintillating. But the depiction of the Pope Nicholas V as another player on the geopolitical world stage holds a certain fascination, as do the suspicious machinations between Constantinople and Rome.
In a closing scene of starry-eyed worship, Aksoy shows that Mehmet, a Muslim, allowed his subjects religious freedom.
"Fetih 1453." No MPAA rating; in Turkish with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 43 minutes. At AMC Burbank 8, Burbank; AMC Tustin 14, Tustin.
Getting lost in mapping the world
Director Braden King's "Here" begins with a title card that declares "The story is still asleep. It dreams," as a poetic narration read by Peter Coyote speaks of scientists and dreamers trying to map the world. The production's own clapboard and a color test card are visible in flickering, fleeting images before actor Ben Foster appears alone in a field.
Foster plays an engineer for an American satellite-mapping company attempting to capture images of remote areas of Armenia. His solitary travels are interrupted by a female photographer (Lubna Azabal) who tags along, their relationship quickly heading toward romance.
Azabal's open earthiness plays well against Foster's compressed anxiety, the spare landscapes around them providing a sensual backdrop seemingly of their own conjuring — after they swim in a secluded lagoon, she asks him to leave it off his map.
King creates a swoony sense of time and place; he uses distancing tactics like abstract narration and imagery from outside the story not so much to deepen the narrative with Foster and Azabal as to create something separate to exist alongside it, a parallel film.
It's hard to say if the two ever really mesh or if they were intended to. "Here" seems motivated by a tone of searching and yearning, not of finding a single way. As Foster's character says at one point, "Getting lost was the goal."