Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"While the odds are, no doubt, stacked against her, Berneri gives Alanis a real sense of agency." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Fiction films involving sex workers have a habit of being, at minimum, unremittingly grim, rising on a sliding scale to utterly exploitative. Anahí Berneri, who picked up the director's Silver Shell in San Sebastian last month for her efforts, takes a refreshing tack, focusing in on the day to day resilience of her central character which, while not making light of the choices she has to face, allows us to examine her life beyond the bedroom.

Alanis (Sofía Gala Castiglione, who won the Silver Shell for best actress at the same festival) is raising her baby son Dante (played by the actress' own son), sharing a house with an older madam (Dana Basso), who looks after him when she has a client. When we first encounter Alanis, she's half hidden behind the door of a bathroom, cleaning the sink while sitting on the toilet. This sense of enclosure and being marginalised sets the tone for the film, with Berneri frequently capturing her in confined spaces, caught in a reflective surface or on the edge of the frame.

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The story - which involves Gisela falling foul of the law and Alanis having to take refuge with extended family after being made homeless - doesn't have a great deal of traditional dramatic drive, but that is more than compensated for by Castiglione's intense central performance. She shows how Alanis ploughs on in the face of a coolly uncaring city - one of the most violent scenes involves the police breaking their way into her flat and evicting her as though they are doing her a favour - hustling as best she can.

While the odds are, no doubt, stacked against her, Berneri gives Alanis a real sense of agency. The choices she has may be limited but she proves adept at making the most of a bad job and the genuine connection between her and Dante serves as a reminder that there is more to her life than simply getting by.

While the film doesn't make light of her life, showing how she falls foul of other prostitutes on the street and hinting that she may be in the career for life, it does not define her by her work, but rather by her sense of endurance and moxie in the face of difficult circumstances. She may be marginalised but we learn she is also, in her own way, much more than that.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2017
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Alanis packshot
An evicted sex worker attempts to get back on her feet with her young son.

Director: Anahí Berneri

Writer: Anahí Berneri

Starring: Sofía Gala

Year: 2017

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Argentina

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