The great Isabelle Huppert must surely be one of the boldest, most fearless actors at work today. In Jeanne Labrune's provocative "Special Treatment," Huppert tackles yet another of her fascinatingly complex creations as an aging escort looking to make some changes in her life. The film's hook is that the screenplay juxtaposes Huppert's illicit interactions with similar scenarios of a psychotherapist at work. It is an intriguing idea that the two professions share a commonality that you might not expect, and it was a concept that I thought had a lot of possibilities. The other central character, who shares a concurrent plot line in the piece, is a psychoanalyst struggling in a troubled marriage. You know it is only a matter of time before the two stories will collide, but what will the resultant meetings bring to each party? As I waited expectantly for the answer, I'm not sure that I found the resolution to be particularly enlightening or to serve as much of an emotional payoff.
Playing as a character study, as well as a slight satire, the movie sets up a number of clients for each of the story threads. Unfortunately, for my taste, the interactions tended to veer into the territory of cliche. Some are oddly humorous, some play it straight, some are meant to invoke danger--but, for whatever reason, none were particularly believable. It's not a reflection on the actors, who perform admirably, but instead on a script that seems to want to be far more edgy than it actually is (one of the therapy patients is a cross dresser, Huppert's clients have her act up a variety of expected sexual fetishes). But with Huppert on screen, I was always willing to see where this tale was headed. The scenes between the two leads, when they finally get together, do have some punch and are helped immeasurably by an understated sense of humor. But alas, the final resolutions failed to fulfill the dramatic promise set up by the rest of the film. I certainly didn't mind watching "Special Treatment," it just never connected with me emotionally or surprised me in any way.
Huppert never shies away from these adult roles and, once again, confronts her character's sexuality head on. It is by no means a graphic performance (in comparison to some of her other works), but she approaches the role with candor and middle-aged sincerity. It is a great character, mixing world weary savvy with surprising pathos, but her arc ends with more of a fizzle than a bang. Labrune's great concept starts as a terrific premise, but never achieves the potential that seems inherent in the idea. While I wanted to love "Special Treatment," I have ended up recommending it on the strength of Huppert alone. In a cinema landscape where actors tend to play it safe, Huppert never fails to explore the gritty and unpleasant underbelly of contemporary society in unexpectedly relatable ways. KGHarris, 2/12.