Student prostitution has become the subject of a French movie putting the spotlight on the alarming social issue. The drama, with French stars in the leads, revolves around young girls turning to sex work to pay for their studies.
Elles, the drama from the Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska, has revealed the current tendency in full swing in many European counties, including France, seeing students going to streets to finance their studies.
Anne (played by Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche) is a Paris-based investigative journalist for Elle magazine, engaged to write an article about student prostitution. Her meetings with two young prostitutes, one of them played by up-and-coming actress Anais Demoustier, are thought-provoking and disturbing to the point where they change the journalist’s personal attitude to family values, sex and money.
Twenty-five-year-old Demoustier, one of France’s most promising actors, caught up with RT to recall her experience in playing a young prostitute Charlotte in Elles.
“Normally I don’t prepare a great deal for a role. Naturally you get prepared as you think of the film and read the script. As a rule, I go through the script a number of times. But for Elles I had to research my role. I watched a documentary on the issue of the young students who were prostitutes. I also watched a lot of reports on the internet, including those made with secret filming. I studied the relations established between clients and young prostitutes during their rendezvous. I also came along a number of hidden ads on the internet in which young girls invited clients for a massage and so on. But when I was asked if I wanted to meet real young prostitutes in the flesh, I said no. Maybe because I didn’t want to bother a young girl with my questions. So I talked a lot with the director to discuss the shooting of the most difficult scenes,” the actress said.
Anais told RT the challenge was to expose and to protect herself at the same time.
“The shooting was pretty difficult indeed. The scenes of nudity, prostitution and sex were quite hard to do, especially because the director demanded a great deal of improvisation, which was almost impossible in this case, given that sex scenes are usually the most-choreographed ones in cinema. Anyway, I did my best to protect myself to the maximum when playing in graphic scenes. Of course, cinema demands to expose oneself by definition. And I knew that I would have to expose myself playing a prostitute. But, there are limits, too,” she added.
How important is it for the fledging actress to relate to the character she is portraying?
“In fact, there’s a constant in-and-out movement between an actor and a character that you portray. Which is why I wasn’t scared to play a young student prostitute. Obviously, it never happened to me and, hopefully, will never happen in real life. But in order to bring my heroine closer, I had to ask myself, what if it did happen to you, Anais? I actually became interested in the profession of an actress because, on the one hand, it’s an opportunity to know myself better and, on the other, it’s a chance to create characters who have nothing to do with me. It’s very passionate, really,” she explained.
“How to pretend to be real? Oh, I’ve never thought of that! I studied the Meisner technique, which teaches an actor to feel connected to the present and to their partner. And I think the best way to be genuine is to live in this very moment, staying close with your partner. I prefer films which feature this union of partners, that’s a winning combination for me. What’s equally important is to understand your characters. And not to judge them, that’s at least what I think. If I judge my character or don’t really understand her, then it’s complicated,” Demoustier believes.
She has been making movies for a decade already, recalling that her love for cinema first came with The Wolf.
“My desire to become an actress was born quite by chance. I was taking theater lessons when I was little. Then it so happened that when I was 13, I had a chance to play in Michael Haneke’s film, Time of the Wolf. Before that, acting was just a hobby, but since that film – which involved two-and-a-half months of shooting in Austria – I’ve opened up cinema for myself and the role of an actress. And eventually it became my passion,” Anais told RT.
Valeria Paikova, RT