French cinema has never been shy about depicting female desire. Cliente, Josiane Balasko's matter-of-fact comedy about the commodification of love, is no exception. An elegant entrepreneur in her fifties, Judith unapologetically engages male escorts to minister to her sexual pleasure.
When she answers Patrick's ad, she's charmed by the sensitive fellow in the classic suit; it's as if he stepped right out of the Nouvelle Vague films of her youth. But from the get-go, things with this good-natured gent aren't as efficient as with other lovers.
Not only is he unable to sustain an erection on their second date, but power dynamics and his private life begin to muddy their arrangement. At home in the Paris projects, Patrick is buckling under pressure to support a gaggle of demanding relatives, including his adorable wife, Fanny, who's getting wise to his secret financial scheme.
And just as you think they'll be propelled onto predictable paths befitting characters in a less-playful, less-astute story, Judith, Patrick, and Fanny veer into murky emotional terrain, reluctantly getting tangled in a bittersweet triangle.
Part bedroom farce, class melodrama, and feminist foray, Cliente is elevated by the superb performances of Eric Caravaca and Nathalie Baye. It boldly illuminates the challenge of contemporary women to define satisfaction on their own terms-somewhere between autonomy and interdependence.