sat 01/10/2022

Her Way review - turning tricks for her son's sake | reviews, news & interviews

Her Way review - turning tricks for her son's sake

Her Way review - turning tricks for her son's sake

Laure Calamy excels as a principled sex worker forced to compromise her independence

A woman's work: Laure Calamy in 'Her Way'Blue Finch Film Releasing

Marie (Laure Calamy), the efficient fortysomething sex worker protagonist of the French drama Her Way, doesn’t have life easy, but she calmly works the badly paid street corners of Strasbourg because she can choose her clients, some of them long-term regulars, and dictate her hours. What Marie doesn’t need is having to find €9,000 euros in a few weeks.

As the frustrated single mother of lethargic 17-year-old Adrien (Nissim Renard), who says he aspires to being a chef, Marie steers him toward a college that is both more prestigious and expensive than the one from which he's already been expelled. Matters aren’t helped by her confrontational parenting, which makes Adrien dig in his heels and disappear on a dope binge.

It takes the patience of Marie's knowing transgender lawyer friend (Romanin Brau), who financed her degree through sex work, to elicit the boy’s passion for cookery through job-interview role-playing. After creating a dish for his entrance exam, Adrien is offered a place at the college, but Marie doesn’t have the first term’s tuition fee. 

Cécile Decrocq’s robust feature debut as writer-director takes it for granted that liberal audiences are going to respond tolerantly to prostitution as a job choice, whether for women or the men who join militant activist Marie and her colleagues in a raucous decriminalisation rally. But the film doesn’t sugarcoat sex work: the potential for violence is omnipresent, each trick an unknown, the pay low and never guaranteed. 

Knowing why Marie chose it would dilute the film’s respect for her self-reliance and independence, but the question does occur when she and Adrien visit an elderly rural couple, possibly her adoptive parents, so she can ask them for a loan, in vain. Decrocq has stated in an interview that sex work is not "normal" work.

Passing moral judgments on sex workers might no longer be accaptable, but any situation in which a woman might cede power to a man, especially if it involves sex, is instrinsically questionable. In one of the film’s most powerful sequences, Adrien – not the uncaring kid he first seems – weeps for fear of what could befall Marie,

Losing business to immigrant girls who charge less, but too proud to admit her age counts against her, Marie heads across the German border to Offenburg and begs for a job from brothel-keeper Bruno (Sam Louwych), seemingly her former pimp, whose regular turinover of punters in his redly glowing concrete club will guarantee her increased earnings. (Pictured above: Nissim Renard, Laure Calamy)

Marie’s nocturnal drive – past car showrooms and other bleak symbols of Eurotrash capitalism – is sinister without being nightmarish, as Bruno’s demeanour is more menacing than his actions, Decrocq's less-is-more approach to the story ratchets up a sense of anxiety that Marie – too driven to provide for Adrien’s future to think clearly, and too tired – glosses over. That she has stepped into a pernicious environment becomes clear as she starts to compromise her values, even as Adrien finds purpose and satisfaction in a restaurant job. 

Specifically, Marie does something to benefit herself that could harm Awa (Amian Larcher), a black colleague who doesn’t have working papers. Implicit in Marie's poor decision-making is her resentment of the immigrant girls who have lured away a client (Maxence Tual) with whom she’s established a warm rapport after servicing him for eight years. Decrocq is too subtle to suggest that Marie might have voted for Marie Le Pen, but racial tension increases Her Way’s turbulence. Essentially a mother-son survival drama, the film is also a snapshot of France in pain, and one that refuses a bandage.

Calamy, best known for her theatre work and performance in Call My Agent! (2015-20), won the Best Actress César for her turn in the amiable fish-out-of-water comedy My Donkey, My Lover and I (2020). She was nominated for a César again for her acting in Her Way, but the award went to Valérie Lemercier for her thinly veiled portrait of Céline Dion in Aline. If it came down to a fight between them that didn’t factor in economic heft, who wouldn’t want Marie rather than the singer in their corner? A resilient, buoyant, passionate street woman, full of piss and vinegar, who lays down her life for her flesh and blood, she's a 21st century Joan of Arc.

The film is also a snapshot of France in pain, and one that refuses a bandage

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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