I don't like people clipping my wings,” says French filmmaker Josiane Balasko, speaking about her film “Cliente,” one of the features at the French Film Festival, and its main character's daring lifestyle which almost kept the movie from being made.
Balasko, best known to English-speaking audiences for her turn in 1995's “Gazon maudit” (“French Twist”), returns to the festival to show “Cliente” and take part in many of its discussions and other events. She is a noted actor, director and writer of both screenplays and now, books.
“Cliente” had to become one before a frame of it could be shot, Balasko recalls during a recent phone conversation. The movie is about a single woman in her 50s who pays men for sex, and producers demurred at funding such a racy subject. Balasko, not taking “no,” decided to rewrite the story into a book about Judith (Nathalie Baye), a take-charge female who fills her private life with male escorts found through online agencies. The book ended up being very popular, especially with women. Producers didn't think it was too provocative anymore, and it became a hit film as well.
The film's story upends the clichAc of movies such as “American Gigolo” and “Pretty Woman” (both starring Richard Gere, for anyone counting), in which the female character is either a secondary focus or under the spell of the male lead. Balasko says an important aspect of “Cliente” is that it explores the relationship from the perspective of a woman who happens also to be the client, the person in power.
“When a man pays for sex it's just the sex,” says Balasko, who has a supporting role in “Cliente” and directed the film. “For a woman,” she says, “it's not just the sex. She wants to be looked at, admired, paid attention to. There's some different elements going on. It's also a way to protect her from a more emotional relationship. Money is set up to be the border of this.”
Judith casts French actress Baye as a sexy, empowered single female older than 50, an image Balasko wanted to create for a story that would be adventurous for women, but also reveal their many facets.
“It's really one where you have someone like Judith who relearns to have a love,” Balasko says. “But also that you can be happy without living with someone.”
Judith ends up falling in love and suffering at the end, Balasko acknowledges, but, she says, “it's a learning process. The main thing is she's free. She's alive.” S
“Cliente” will be screened Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Byrd Theatre.