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Special Treatment (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 95 minutes.

Not for children.

I've known a few psychiatrists. One of them was a pretty good friend of mine. All but one have been goofy. I always thought they needed to receive analysis more than give it. This film gave me another point of view.

This is a brilliant analysis of the similarities between two professions, prostitution and psychological analysis. Although it's touted as being "darkly erotic," it might be "dark," but it is certainly not "erotic." There's very little nudity and what nudity there is, is more disgusting than sexy since the people who are naked are not what anyone would call attractive.

Like analysis, it is, well, analytical. Alice (Isabelle Huppert) is an aging (she's over 43, so I guess you could say she has already aged) prostitute who services guys who are, shall we say, mixed up. She plays to their fantasies.

Xavier (Bouli Lanners) is a screwed up psychotherapist in an unhappy marriage. His counseling consists of him sitting behind his patients looking disapproving but never uttering a word as they patter on, or not.

Both Alice and Xavier are unhappy. The way director Jeanne Labrunne (who also wrote the script with Richard Debuisne) presents the story, however, is extraordinarily subtle.

Some might find the storytelling slow, and the film does move at its own pace. The last half hour introduces psychiatrist Pierre Cassagne (Debuisne) and shows what some psychotherapists have to confront every day. It draws a distinct dichotomy between Xavier's patients, who are mostly people who are just unhappy or neurotic, and Pierre's patients, who are truly disturbed or psychotic. This film shows people who are really disturbed and raises the issue of how a normal person who might be a psychiatrist can keep his or her equanimity when treating people with mental disorders this severe every day.

While I can't recommend this for everyone, I found it an informative, if unsettling, commentary on life and two widely practiced professions.