Early in Jeanne Labrune’s Special Treatment, high-class prostitutes Alice (Isabelle Huppert) and Juliette (Sabila Moussadek) discuss potential johns in an antique shop and, because of a double entendre, the owner believes Alice is talking about her collection of rare pipes. Intrigued, he asks to see them. Cut to Alice’s bedroom: the two women exit and the owner complains his expensive bowl only bought him a half-hour.
This semi-satisfying scene is one of the better ones in a film that aims to be both funny and philosophical and succeeds at neither. The first half follows the independent stories of Alice and psychotherapist Xavier Demestre (Bouli Lanners). Alice is the consummate professional; as we watch her fulfill eclectic fantasies—the scenes are always shot using the same comedic formula, a bizarre preparation followed by the postcoital punchline—we get the impression nothing will faze her. Strange sex doesn’t affect her everyday demeanor and she thinks of clients as less than people. She nicknames the hypothetical john who’ll enable a fully decorated home “her chandelier.”
Xavier, on the other hand, is a disaster. His practice is losing clients. His marriage is about to implode. He doesn’t even attempt to feign stability and one patient declares himself cured because compared to his doctor’s, his own depression is negligible. At this point, still without a real narrative, Labrune tries to create meaning through a series of heavy-handed
comparisons between prostitution and therapy. Both are one-on-one transactions. Both take place in private rooms. Both require clients to pay even if they’re unsatisfied. But directors have been critiquing psychotherapy for over half a
century now and if the angle is that psychotherapy has sexual undertones, then the idea is even older. Freud was there at the turn of the century.
Eventually, Alice and Xavier’s stories intertwine when Xavier wants a prostitute and Alice wants a therapist. Over the phone, they both unwittingly accept the other as a client. It’s a coincidence that could provide some entertaining (if uninspired) comedy, but then Labrune refuses to allow it. When they meet, the two seem only capable of talking about what this film points out ad nauseum—how their professions are similar.
This is unfortunate. Huppert’s performance is strong and Labrune’s previous films show she’s not without talent. You wish she hadn’t so stubbornly adhered to one tiresome idea. Otherwise, that talent would have come through.