An interview with ELLES director Malgoska Szumowska

May 2, 2012

Following a fantastic opening and audience Q&A last weekend, Malgoska Szumowska sat down with us to further discuss her new film ELLES. A provocative exploration of female sexuality that wowed audiences at the Berlin Film Festival, ELLES stars the fearless Juliette Binoche as Anne, a well-off Parisian journalist investigating the lives of two student prostitutes for a magazine article. What begins as a routine assignment quickly turns personal, as Anne is drawn into the lives of these fiercely independent young women and forced to confront her marriage, her competence as a mother, and her own physical needs and desires. 

Q: What was your inspiration? What drew you to this story?
A:  The idea came from my producer Marianne Slot. She found an article in French Elles about student prostitution. She wanted to find a woman director from Eastern Europe. Someone who has an outside view of French society. She expected something about social problems, but I was thinking before about making a film about womenâ??s sexuality. I didnâ??t want to make a social film about student prostitution. I didnâ??t know how, and suddenly she came and proposed it in a good sense.

Q:  The three leads are captivating, but so different and they each give very powerful, intimate performances. What was the casting process like?
A:  I donâ??t do typical casting, and in this case, I didnâ??t either. Usually I have someone in my mind in my writing process. I knew I had to make a film in France, and my characters are going to be two girls. We knew this from the beginning. Immediately, I figured out it should be Juliette Binoche. I loved her performance in Michael Hanekeâ??s Cache. But Marian initially said Julietteâ??s too big a star, and it might be hard. After that, when I was writing it, I was thinking of Juliette. Joanna Kulig I saw in a Polish film. I was writing for somebody like her. It was a funny story, that Joanna kind of lied to me that she spoke French. Then when she figured out that she doesnâ??t speak French, the producer was unconvinced, but then we forced Joanna to learn French in front of the producer, and she did it very well. Anaïs Demoustier I saw in a film Sois Sage, I liked her performance. I kept her for my first idea. The typical casting just doesnâ??t happen for me.

Q:  What was the hardest part of making this film? The easiest?
A:  The hardest part was to work outside of my own country. To do it not in my language, in French, and to be far away from home for almost one year. I moved with my family. It was hard to find myself in a different culture. The French crew was like a family at some point. They helped me and supported me. I was so afraid in the pre-production, but then while shooting we became a family. It was easy to make it through because of them. It was easy because of Juliette Binoche. She said a pretty fast â??yes.â? She worked with me on my rules, and I worked with her on her rules. We were like sisters.

Q: What have audience reactions been like?
A: The audience reaction has been divided. This was something I expected from the beginning. Iâ??m happy with this. It was the kind of the plan. The people either hate the film, or love the film. There are not many reactions in between. I can see the women really like the film at the audience Q&As. Women probably like the film more than the men.

Q:  Would you consider this a feminist film?
A:  Before shooting, I never thought about if it would feminist or not. My attitude was probably they wouldnâ??t like it. I was surprised that some feminists in Poland like the film. Liberation Newspaper in Paris said itâ??s a beautiful manifest of modern feminism. I was really surprised in a good sense.


ELLES is now playing at the Angelika New York.  For more information about the film, visit or