Student Services

Year: 2010
Production Co: Les Films du Kiosque
Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
Writer: Emmanuelle Bercot
Cast: Déborah François

It sounds like a straight to video sex comedy from the mid 80s, but Student Services is actually a French film, which tells you two things – it's not going to be a comedy, and it's going to contain more nudity and sex than any risque straight to video sex comedy from Hollywood ever did.

The thing about French films containing sex is that they're comfortable depicting it for it's own sake rather than a means to a profound narrative end. In the far more puritanical American film market a character has sex to either gain something or position the character (particularly female characters) as a certain stereotype.

Student Services has all the sex and nudity of a French sex film, but it's got a curious English-speaking sensibility in that the heroine Laura (Deborah François) goes into prostitution in order to make a living and the story's about a spiritual descent because of it rather than a liberation.

She intends at various points throughout the story to give it up knowing she doesn't really like it, but she's become dangerously reliant on the money even as it gradually erodes her soul. Much like 2013's Young and Beautiful (which is a virtual remake), Laura has sex and is punished for it, just like female characters in American movies who enjoy sex for its own sake.

The man in his late 50s who first posts the ad she responds to seems like a kindly old grandad who means no harm even though he's still horny, but he might also be a sickening psychopath – when he snaps handcuffs on Laura during one of their interludes, you want to scream at her to kick him in the nuts and run. To muddy the water even further after what's been a horrible experience for her, he goes back to his tender, caring self, claiming he thought she was enjoying it and just playing the role.

In another scene, a nervous John who doesn't even have the money to take her to a hotel room pulls into a freezing parking lot and turns into a monster as he pushes her over the back seat to fuck her roughly as she stares, dead-eyed, out the window.

Like the heroine in Young and Beautiful it doesn't help the political standpoint of the film that Laura is far from ready to present herself sexually to paying customers. The scenes of her undressing and parading for clients are excruciating, her obvious discomfort making them anything but erotic.

If the film raises an unexpected question at all, it's about whether her customers are within their rights to expect what she's offering after they've paid or whether their decent sides should emerge and make them realise they're facing a child in serious emotional danger who's way out of her depth.

It does a very effective job deglamourising the lot of the modern sex worker, but without the Gallic tone and nudity it doesn't really tell you a lot you don't know if you're a halfway intelligent adult. Whether in France or elsewhere society as a whole doesn't really accept prostitutes, and as the final scenes of Laura – in disguise being interviewed for a documentary – reveals, having been one stains your reputation forever.

Also like Young and Beautiful, star Deborah Francois doesn't have a lot to do apart from take her clothes off. The role doesn't call for much in the way of emotional performance, which is a shame. After this, The Page Turner and L'enfant it would be great to see what she can really do.

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