Alanis is a powerful character study from the acclaimed award winning Argentine filmmaker Anahí Berneri who is known for her extremely intimate and raw authentic depictions of women struggling with motherhood and societal expectations ; Aire Libre (2014), It’s Your Fault (2010). 

She has chosen for her latest film an even more provocative perspective on life from the dark underworld of prostitutes struggling to survive while working on the urban streets of Buenos Aires. 

With Alanis, Berneri focuses on the remarkable and gripping story of a young resilient sex worker and new mother struggling to stabilize her life and that of her new toddler when she is locked out of her downtown apartment that she rents and works out of with an older colleague she shares the space with.

After her friend Gisela is arrested in a raid of their flat by undercover inspectors, Alanis takes her baby, Dante, played by her actual son, to a nearby relative who owns a women’s clothing shop to crash for the night until she can get her belongings back which are locked in the apartment.

Alanis played by Sofia Gala Castiglione is absolutely riveting to watch and carries the film as we follow her through a range of daily activities from mundane dressing and breast feeding her child, to the matter-of-factness of her job performing sex acts with some of her clients, and the more disturbing suspenseful scenes of surviving on the seedy streets of a busy multi-cultural metropolis. She makes it seem completely natural and honest as if it’s all part of life.

Alanis feels like and harkens back to the best of Italian neo-realist cinema of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), but without any sentimentality or moralizing and without any judgement. We are simply present to what seems like actual documentary style footage from what could be her cell phone camera. We also get moments of visual beauty that transcend her predicament and elevate the film and our hopes.

There’s a peripheral social comment in the film that exposes the way sex workers are treated by the state, law enforcement and the attitudes and perceptions of society. But mostly we focus on Alanis’ immediate needs to provide for the survival of her child and herself, at once tender and reflective, then suddenly violent and desperate.

Alanis never displays any signs of shame or apology for what she does. As dire as Alanis’ circumstance are, she seems to take it all in stride, determined to show her pride and dignity in the face of adversity and judgement. It’s as if this has always been her reality and indeed she is so accustomed to her bohemian lifestyle that it seems unnatural for her to imagine any other life. When she does get an opportunity to make a living as a cleaner, she quickly grows tired and depressed finding it more degrading than what she was doing and returns to the more familiar nocturnal territory of the streets.

The hard rock soundtrack appropriately gives Alanis the sense of living a life on the edge of society where there are few people and resources she can turn to for help, while also reflecting the hardened persona she has had to develop in order to survive her harsh environment.

But Alanis is not the kind of film that gives us hope or answers. It’s more honest than that, and by the end of the film she has had to endure many dangers and people who want to take advantage or punish her. But she refuses to be a victim and continues to live the only life she knows while finding happiness nurturing and loving her child.

Alanis had its premiere at the TIFF 2017 Toronto International Film Festival this past month and has since won the Best Actress award for Sofia Gala Castiglione, and the Best Director Award for Anahí Berneri at the 65th San Sebastián Film Festival. Berneri became the first female director to win the award in the 65 year history of the Festival.


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