Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Referrals Required: Special Treatment

Both Alice Bergerac and Xavier Demestre charge their clients by the hour. Get the irony? You see, he is an analyst and she is an older kind of specialist. Indeed, Bergerac and Demestre’s professional livelihoods are similarly dependent on sexual dysfunction and both are raging neurotics in Jeanne Labrune’s psychologically charged drama Special Treatment (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Demestre’s marriage is profoundly on the rocks, which is awkward considering he shares a suite of offices with his wife Hélène, a psychiatrist herself and probably a better one. Even his patients seem to keep their appointments only to shower him in contempt. His colleague refers him to Bergerac, whom he aptly describes as a “specialist.” Yet, the anxious and increasingly depressed Demestre is not sure what he wants from the transaction.

Meanwhile, Bergerac is suffering from her own crisis of confidence. An educated woman of sophisticated taste, she is not getting any younger. Though still desirable to men of a certain age, Bergerac is starting to press her luck in an exploitative business. Yet, the prospect of making life-altering decisions paralyzes her.

The affinity between shrinks and the more scandalous hourly professionals is fairly path-worn territory, having been previously mined for Hitchcockian suspense and lurid fascination. Frankly, Treatment never puts any sort of fresh spin on the material, but the accomplished cast still digs into it quite impressively.

Isabelle Huppert is perfectly cast as Bergerac, outwardly fitting the part to a tee, while viscerally capturing all the character’s neuroses and simmering hostilities. Bouli Lanners also brings surprising depth and humanity to Demestre, making a character all too easy to dismiss as pompous perv the sympathetic center of the film. Co-writer Richard Debuisne’s turn as the apparently principled Dr. Pierre Cassagne is also quite intriguing and rather unpredictable. On a fundamental level, he is just an interesting screen presence to watch.

To her credit, Labrune deftly handles her cast, guiding them through some provocative scenes with their dignity intact. However, her story often lacks focus, at one point taking a detour into a sequence that could have been lifted straight out of Eyes Wide Shut, which ultimately leads nowhere and signifies nothing. A fine acting showcase that is definitely mature but not nearly as explicit as one might expect, Treatment is mostly recommended for dedicated Francophiles and Huppert fans when it opens this Friday (8/26) in New York at the Cinema Village.