Student Services is the type of film the French do better than anyone. It’s the story of a 19 year old Freshman, Laura ( Deborah Francois), in applied modern languages who gets into financial difficulties. Accordingly she responds to a sexual meeting with an older man Joe (Alain Lauchi) and reverts to prostitution whenever she needs money. It is apparently a true story and reflects a significant group of university students who do not receive a grant but struggle to make ends meet. It is thought that as many as 45,000 such students have taken to some form of prostitution.
Unlike Elles with Juliette Binoche, the student here does not enjoy prostitution. You can see why as twice she is raped and almost all the men are unappealing and take advantage of her naïveté in one form or another. She does, however, enjoy the money it brings her. She can buy clothes, enjoy herself with her friends, she finances her relationship with her boyfriend, a wastrel but this founders on the “extra mural” activities.
Deborah Franocis, a 27 year old Belgian actress who has the looks and acting presence to go far, gives a nuanced performance, in which she clearly empathises with her character. Joe is a sinister pervert, ensnaring her with promises of money he does not keep, whilst she receives little understanding from the boyfriend (Mathieu Demy), a recognised talent in the French film world.
In the second half the film’s plot line becomes rather strained and episodic. It is certainly not pornographic though explicit, or an erotic film, as Laura is detached from the sex she sells. The film is more about her ambition to succeed as a student than an exercise in arousal. Not that I felt sorry for Laura, who could have given up prostitution at any stage. This was a brave attempt to engage a serious issue, not a cover for some cheap thrills or a platform to be morally judgmental.