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  Girlfriend Experience, The The World's Oldest Profession
Year: 2009
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, Philip Eytan, T. Colby Trane, Peter Zizzo, Ron Stein, Marshall Gilman, Michael Roberts, Vincent Dellacera, Jim Kempner, David Levien, Mark Jacobson, Alan Milstein, Sukdev Singh, Ted Jessup
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Chelsea (adult-film actress Sasha Grey) is a high-priced call girl whose strict set of rules for dealing with clients allows her to maintain a seemingly healthy, honest relationship with her boyfriend Chris (Chris Santos). Following liaisons with various clients, she often records her thoughts in the interest of strengthening her business and agrees to be interviewed by an inquisitive journalist (Mark Jacobson). It is October 2008 and with the US elections and the global financial crisis on the horizon, Chris worries his job as a fitness trainer is in jeopardy, while Chelsea is eager her career should develop in the right direction. When a new client (co-screenwriter David Levien) invites Chelsea to spend the weekend with him, she accepts, even though she knows this will jeopardise her relationship with Chris.

Between mainstream movies, Steven Soderbergh often recharges his creative batteries on offbeat, low-budget, shot-on-digital efforts, of which The Girlfriend Experience is a fine example. Shot for 1.3 million dollars the film bears a sleek, seductive visual style reflecting Soderbergh’s considerable skill as a cinematographer as his camera eavesdrops on hushed conversations in plush hotel suites, art galleries, chic restaurants and limousines. Although Soderbergh cites such arty explorations of alienation as The Red Desert (1964) and Cries and Whispers (1972) as influences, the drama concocted by scriptwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien is rather more accessible and arguably the first to intelligently articulate anxieties wrought by the current global economic downturn. It’s all Chelsea’s clients talk about - as a prelude and postscript to sex - from the stockbroker who maintains the bailout won’t work, to the producer worried his career is going rapidly downhill.

While there is cache of notoriety attached, given this marks porn star Sasha Grey’s first foray into mainstream filmmaking, the movie sidesteps tawdry titillation to focus on the idea of sex and emotional fulfilment as a marketable commodity. Though Chelsea flirts with pursuing a possibly more emotionally satisfying relationship with David, her dilemma stems not from abandoning prostitution but finding the best way to move forward, without losing out to younger, up-and-coming girls or being drawn into seedier arenas. Sasha Grey - who comes across as an astute, articulate young woman in interviews and endearingly, an avid art-house cinephile - acquits herself very well indeed. Her chic, enigmatic demeanour befits the semi-detached patter of a professional call girl, yet she conveys those chinks in Chelsea’s armour when the mask slips and we glimpse genuine hurt and an almost naïve devotion to astrology.

Supporting performances are low-key and strong across the board, including a surprise appearance from Glenn Kenney, film critic and editor of Premiere magazine, as the sleazy curator of a sex website. His scenes risk sliding into caricature (“I want to take a bunch of girls to Dubai and convince the Arabs to buy American”), but crucially shows there is a grimy underbelly to what might otherwise be too slick a portrayal of high-class prostitution, as the nasty oaf requests a cotton swab of Chelsea’s private parts, then adds insult to injury by giving her a scathing review on his website.

Explicit nudity and sex are downplayed for the most part aside from a surprisingly affecting scene where Chelsea helps an overweight Hassidic Jewish client climax just by gently embracing him. Which somehow concludes this cerebral look at a woman entrepreneur facing an uncertain future on a note of pathos and hope.

Click here for the trailer

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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Steven Soderbergh  (1963 - )

Versatile American writer, director and producer whose Sex Lies and Videotape made a big splash at Cannes (and its title has become a cliche). There followed an interesting variety of small films: Kafka, King of the Hill, noir remake The Underneath, Schizopolis (which co-starred his ex-wife) and Gray's Anatomy.

Then came Out of Sight, a smart thriller which was successful enough to propel Soderbergh into the big league with The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Oscar-winning Traffic and classy remake Ocean's 11. When Full Frontal and his Solaris remake flopped, he made a sequel to Ocean's 11 called Ocean's 12, material he returned to with Ocean's 13. Che Guevara biopics, virus thriller Contagion and beat 'em up Haywire were next, with the director claiming he would retire after medication thriller Side Effects and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. He returned after a period of even greater activity with heist flick Logan Lucky and his first horror, Unsane.

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