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IFFR 2020 Voices Limelight

Anne Paulicevich and Frédéric Fonteyne • Directors of Working Girls

“We wanted to explore a female form of heroism”


- We met with Anne Paulicevich and Frédéric Fonteyne to talk about their film Working Girls, selected in the IFFR

Anne Paulicevich and Frédéric Fonteyne • Directors of Working Girls
Directors Frédéric Fonteyne and Anne Paulicevich (© Charles Paulicevich)

Following on from Tango Libre [+see also:
film review
interview: Frédéric Fonteyne
film profile
, presented in Venice back in 2012, Frédéric Fonteyne (heading up direction) and Anne Paulicevich (script and artistic direction) are making their return with Working Girls [+see also:
film review
interview: Anne Paulicevich and Frédér…
film profile
, a choral portrait of three women who are leading a double life and who find themselves connected, in spite of themselves, by death. The film was presented at the IFFR in the Voices, Limelight section.

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Cineuropa: How did this project come about?
Anne Paulicevich:
I think it came first and foremost from my desire to talk about the heroism of women. I’d just brought a little girl into the world and I wondered what it meant to be a woman today, in our society. I stumbled across an article about women who lead a double life between France and Belgium and who prostitute themselves, and I was struck by just how like me and you these women are; nurses, mothers… The solution they came up with in order to get by was to sell themselves. It was also a reaction to the austerity laws affecting Europe, because women are the first to be affected by them, especially single mothers. This film is also for all my friends, all those women who stay on their feet, no matter what.

Frédéric Fonteyne: In my previous films I’d already explored the definition of female heroism. It’s often a far less visible form of heroism. With male heroism, there’s often a guy who goes off to blow some death star up. Female heroism is more of a constellation; on the one hand, because women lead many lives, but also because they work together. It’s no coincidence that there’s not one, but three heroines in the film, and that this mutual aid unfolds in almost organic fashion.

The film also opens an alternative window onto prostitution; a day to day look.
I was shocked by the Carlton affair in Lille at the time; by the fact that in the way they told the story, the media acted as if the prostitutes didn’t even exist. Brothels are invisible places in our world, where no-one wants to go and which no-one is allowed into. What’s life like in these sitting rooms, where girls wait for clients to come along? The impression these women gave me was that their lives are lived more intensely. It’s a very difficult job, they’ve chosen it in order to survive, but they live their lives in a more acute manner as a result. Either way, when you watch TV you get the impression that prostitution is everywhere. I found a certain level of truth in this sitting room. They don’t lie when they’re in there.

How did you prepare the film exactly?
First, I wrote the story, as if it were pure fiction, but then I told myself that it wouldn’t be respectful to write it without knowing what prostitution really is. I went to one brothel in particular, 2 to 3 times a week for 9 months. It was Dodo la Saumure, randomly, who helped me get into the brothel, and when he introduced me to the girls, he said: “Anne is a screenwriter, she’s not a journalist.” And the girls looked at me and said: “We’re screenwriters too!” Strangely, or not, I’ve never laughed so much as in the girls’ sitting room, even though there were some very difficult, intense times, where I felt emotionally charged as a result of all the things they were – and weren’t - telling me. One of them said to me: “I hope that it will change the way people look at us”.

In this context, the actresses you chose were pivotal to the film…
FF: Either we made the film with real prostitutes, which wasn’t possible, because most of them lead double lives and hide what they do, or we opted for brilliant actresses, who were creative, quirky and dignified enough to stand up for these women.

It’s also a film about the violence carried out against women, and the script Anne wrote put them in a very difficult position. There are always external factors which drive these women to do this particular job; they’re at an impasse. We needed brilliant actresses who could explore the most extreme facets of what these women experience; it’s both terribly illuminating and terribly violent.

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(Translated from French)

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