Filles de Joie | Working Girls (2020) Rotterdam International Film Festival 2020

January 27th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Frédéric Fonteyne | Wri: Anne Paulicevich | Cast: Noemie Lvovsky, Jonas Bloquet, Sara Forestier | Drama Belgium 91′

Belgian filmmaker Frédéric Fonteyne (1968) studied film at Institut des arts de diffusion in Louvain-la-Neuve. He realised several successful short films before his two acclaimed features, Max & Bobo (1998) and Une liaison pornografique (1999), which were both screened at IFFR. This drama about sex workers starts on a light note but soon develops into a more dejected tale of life and death. An excellent cast cannot always overcome Paulicevich’s uneven script.

Sarah Forestier’s thirty-something sex worker Axelle (aka Athena) lives with her three unruly children and a cantankerous mother in a council flat. Every morning she joins neighbour Conso (Legronne) and Dominique (Lvovsky) in a battered car to drive over the border to Belgium, where they ply their trade. Conso, a long legged black women has to run a scary racist gauntlet from the youth of the estate. Axelle is separated from her husband Yann, who still has his fingers in the pie. Their their youngest son is caught in a violent incident at Kindergarten, shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ before his attack – even though he is not a Muslim. Conso meanwhile has a boyfriend, Jean-Philippe, who gives her an expensive pendant for her birthday, raising her hopes for a way out of her depressing life.

But the women’s light hearted banter soon gives way to darker developments. Axelle’s husband Yann trails her, and confronts her as a ‘customer’, threatening to take the children away from her. Then Conso is invited to a special party by Jean-Philippe. It turns out that he is celebrating the very recent birth of his first child. The devastated Conso nearly overdoses, and Dominique and Axelle decide to teach J-P a lesson. Meanwhile, the former is appalled to find her daughter Zoe (Dewaels) “earning some pocket money”, but the real drama starts when Yann attacks Axelle in a domestic set-to defused with the help of a hammer.

Suddenly this bitter-sweet comedy gets serious morphing to a real life and death scenario in a sobering and awkward tonal shift. But these feisty women have learnt to deal with their work related ups and downs – quite literally – so anything else is all in a day’s work.

DoP Juliette Van Dormael’s nimble camera-work captures the raucous near heart-breaking hysteria. Lvovsky is the leader of the pack, looking after ‘her’ girls like a lioness with her cubs  – but failing to keep her own domestic life on track. Forestier is the most ambivalent, often attacking Conso for not being ‘serious’ enough. Working Girls doesn’t always succeed in conveying the complexities of life for sex-working parents. But Fonteyne has a good certainly crack of the whip at it nonetheless . AS




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