One of the widest-selling titles at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous, a showcase of French cinema that wraps Monday, is Claus Drexel’s “Under the Stars of Paris.” The French-German speaks to Variety about the pic and his upcoming prostitution documentary “The Amazons.”
“Under the Stars of Paris” centers on a homeless woman – played by Catherine Frot – who tries to help a lost 8-year-old boy from Burkina Faso to find his mother on the streets of Paris. The pic, repped by Memento Films, has been sold to more than 15 countries, including Benelux, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Lichtenstein, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland and Taiwan.
Drexel is finalizing his documentary “The Amazons” (previously titled “L’heure Mélusine”) about prostitutes working in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, which he hopes to conclude in mid-2020.
Drexel was born in Germany, but moved with his family to France at the age of 3, initially in Grenoble, where his father worked at the INP’s research labs, and then to Paris at the age of 23. He says his multi-cultural background makes him feel very German when in France and very French when in Germany.
“It’s nice having multiple cultural roots and speaking various languages. When I grew up I spoke German at home and French and English at school. With several languages you realize that there is no single truth, only different points of view.”
The helmer’s insider/outsider status is one of the things that attracted him to underprivileged sections of French society, in a country where the gulf between rich and poor is accelerating, spawning growing protest movements such as the yellow vests, which has rocked France since October 2018.
Drexel began his career in fiction, directing three shorts, but in recent years has focused primarily on documentaries.
His 2013 feature-length documentary “On the Edge of the World,” about homeless people living on the streets of Paris, premiered in the ACID showcase in Cannes, and won the Grand Prize of the International Francophone Film Festival in Germany.
“Making this film changed me as a person,” he reveals. “I shot every night for a year on the streets of Paris with homeless people, which was a deeply formative experience.”
His 2018 documentary “America” was shot in Arizona in November 2016, in the build-up to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President.
He says he has enjoyed returning to fiction with “Under the Stars of Paris” because it makes it possible to reach a wider audience, especially due to the renown of lead actress Catherine Frot, who is a ten-time César Award nominee, and won Best Actress for “Marguerite” (2015) and Best Supporting Actress for “Family Resemblances” (1996).
In both his fiction and documentary projects he says he looks for a painterly visual aesthetic and a fairy-tale dimension.
He has been shooting “The Amazons” since 2016, teamed with his long-time cinematographer, Sylvain Leser.
At first he was unsure whether the female, male and trans-sexual prostitutes working in Paris’ Bois du Boulogne would be willing to be interviewed, but says a relationship of trust was built up over time.
The title pays tribute to the race of fierce female warriors of Greek myth, and the magical atmosphere of the woodlands of the Bois du Boulogne.
“The Amazons that I portray in my film are strange creatures living in a forest, a bit like in a fairy tale. Even the title makes us think of a forest, as well as the mythical Greek women riding on horses with cut breasts.”
Drexel says he is fascinated by the hidden underbelly of Paris. “Paris has a very strong symbolic value. It exudes a majestic splendor, but people often overlook the poorer communities. The fracture between rich and poor is getting worse and worse. We’re always hearing that there’s no money for schools or poorer communities, but in fact there’s never been so much money in the world. We saw how donations poured in to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral after the fire. I’m all in favor of protecting our heritage, but we shouldn’t forget the tax reductions and public image benefits from such donations. The generosity of less well-off people can often be greater.”
Drexel plans to continue working in both fiction and documentary. He is currently writing a script for a film set in a provincial city in France, which has been devastated by the closure of the local factory. The main character tries to survive economically, while reconnecting with nature. He hopes to raise the funding for the project in 2020.