Au Coeur du Bois @ Cinemania

A documentary to start off my Cinemania experience this year. Once again this is a hybrid film festival in that there are some in-person screenings to go along with films you can watch via their platform. The choice is yours.

Cinemania, for those unfamiliar with the film festival, features French-language films made anywhere in the world. This is a documentary from France by director Claus Drexel. In English, the title of the doc is Ladies of the Woods which is different from the French title, Au Coeur du Bois. No matter the title here we get an insider’s intimate view of a community of prostitutes who operate in a woods located on the edge of Paris. Every interview is filled with moments in which you learn about what might cause someone to turn to sex work and why they work or even live in these woods.

Drexel films interviews with a number of sex workers, mostly transgender, who work in Bois de Boulogne, a woods located on the outskirts of Paris. The interviews happen in the woods or in a camper they live in. The choice of not having it happen in a room, house or studio forces you to really listen to the subjects’ words. Words of a population that is often invisible. A population we don’t acknowledge or even care about until we think they have infringed on our lives. Here they are front and center.

Everything has been thought about by Drexel, from the height of the camera which forces you to look at them in the face to the questions asked. Nary an exploitative moment or judgment about their chosen profession to be found. Drexel sees the sex workers as humans and, as such, their humanity is the focus. Shows how those who work in the woods have become a group or tribe. They look out for each other like a family would.

From Geneviève, Floria, Isidro, Judith, Juliette, Kimberley, Luciana, Lydia, Mélina, Mylène, Florence, Paola, Pirina, Prya, Raquel, Vicky, Yohanni and Samantha we learn about their lives, what brought them here and why they have turned to sex work. They are from around the world – Peru, the Caribbean, Portugal, and Brazil. We learn of the job of prostitution in a way few other, if any, films have brought to light. The why, what and where are asked and answered. Plus the history of Bois de Boulogne. Why this place and why do they keep working here?

From them, we learn of their hopes, fears, traumas, and even who their clients are. Clients who are professional soccer players, married men, women, and celebrities. Why they, as transgender people, work here? How has it existed as a fairly safe haven for them? What they are looking for? How do they, because they know they are not the gender that their bodies and society at large have imposed upon them, see their own bodies?

Plenty of emotions emerge as you listen to them speak. Sadness, hope for their futures, humour, and a breaking of your heart.