Those of you who know Laure Calamy from her role as Noémie, Mathias’s assistant in Call My Agent, will be delighted to see her movie acting career going from strength to strength. She won the 2021 César for Best Actress in Caroline Vignal’s film Antoinette dans les Cévennes, and now she takes the lead role in Une Femme du Monde (mystifyingly translated as Her Way for English-language release), director Cécile Ducrocq’s first feature-length movie.
Calamy plays Marie, a veteran sex worker in Strasbourg, who has to juggle her work with looking after her 17-year-old son Adrien (played by Nissim Renard). Prostitution has been portrayed on the big screen since movies were invented, but inevitably the vast majority of those films have been directed by men, who tend either to over-romanticize or over-eroticize the profession, so it is especially refreshing to see it portrayed in a clear-headed way by a female director. Even though inevitably we see Marie in various states of undress (and fans of Call My Agent will recall that Calamy is not shy about casting off her clothes), it is never done to titillate.
Dealing with a sulky, noncommunicative adolescent son (performed very realistically by Renard – at a late stage of the film he actually smiles, which comes as a shock) is just as frustrating for a single mother who works the streets as it is for a high-flying professional. When Adrien, somewhat surprisingly, is accepted by a prestigious private cooking school, Marie ends up crossing the border into Germany to work in a sex club to earn extra money to help fund his studies.
Calamy is deeply affecting as Marie, driven in her quest to give her seemingly ungrateful son a chance in life. Even though she is portrayed in an overwhelmingly sympathetic light, she is never idealized. Indeed, when faced with the opportunity to steal money from a fellow sex worker to meet the financial deadline, she does not hesitate to do what she thinks is best for Adrien.
The sordid realities of sex work are not shirked in the movie but are not depicted quite as grittily or uncompromisingly as a film like Sauvage.
Ducrocq’s direction is unfussily straightforward, eliciting fine and ultimately moving central performances from Calamy and Renard. All three look to have bright futures in French cinema.
Nick Hammond’s latest book, The Powers of Sound and Song in Early Modern Paris, is now available in paperback and as an e-book here and from online vendors.Favorite