"Lovemobil" tells the stories of sex workers who find themselves working out of mobile homes. In an interview with DW, director Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss reveals what she's learned about their world.
In Germany, a cluster of caravans in which sex workers operate are known by locals as "Liebesmobile" (Love mobiles). While some wonder about lives of the women inside as they drive past on a lonely stretch of highway, director Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss decided to stop, get to know them and tell their stories in the documentary Lovemobil.
Rita (24) escaped poverty in Nigeria. One day she wants to start a family. Milena (23) comes from Bulgaria and works to support her little brother back home. She hasn't trusted men for a long time and can't imagine marrying one someday.
In the beginning, the director interviewed and accompanied several women in this trade but was drawn specifically to the stories of Milena and Rita. Another key figure, Uschi, is a former sex worker who lets motorhomes to these women. Lovemobil has been acclaimed at several film festivals and is shortlisted for the upcoming German Film Award in the documentary category.
DW met the director to discuss her film and the sex workers' situation.
DW: How did you get the idea to tell this story?
Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss: I knew about the "Liebesmobile" from my childhood. Back then it was only German women who worked in them. That has changed a lot in the last 20 or 30 years. Today only women from abroad work in them. I wanted to make a film about it because when we drive past these "love mobiles" in our cars, we often wonder who is sitting inside and how this came to be.
I thought it was important to make a film about this. The original idea was to create a cinematic story, not just to make a report, but to really give a feeling of what it's like to be stranded on one of these country roads.
Two murders happened during the shoot. The women talk about aggression and fear. Was it just as dangerous when it was only German women working there?
It has always been dangerous, but I don't remember that it was quite as dangerous as this. The German women, who all spoke the language and could seek help for themselves, didn't have the same economic hardship. They weren't forced to work there by anyone.
Is integration the solution to the problems facing sex workers today?
Absolutely. It is a must that as soon as women arrive here and end up in such a situation, they should be made aware of their rights, introduced to the language, and told that they can get out if they want to. Of course, language always plays a big role. I believe that there must be a contact point that they are made aware of.
It was a surprise to me that clients were also seen in the film.
To protect our protagonists, we did not shoot in the place where they actually work and always used another motorhome. The clients had no problems appearing in front of the camera. I think that's because they have a completely different image of women. And that's where the problem begins. For them, prostitution is a given. It is a completely different image of society and women.
And are they real clients who had such conversations in front of the camera?
We had six protagonists, three of whom are in the film. We even filmed sex scenes. The clients who are in the film are familiar, regular customers. They knew we were there with the camera.
What did you learn from the film?
I've learned that you can't paint with a broad brush. One has to differentiate between the free, mostly German sex workers, who are acting voluntarily, and on the other hand the forced prostitutes who ended up there as a result of human trafficking. There is a lot that exists between these two extremes. The film also shows a gray area. Milena is not here because she decided to be, but because she was lured over and then stayed. For Rita it is an economic necessity.
The film exists to discuss exactly such questions. What is work? Is sex work proper work? What do freedom and free will mean in this work? There is a lot to discuss about that. For me, that countryside parking lot is the dead-end of globalized capitalism. We as a society close our eyes and the weakest, in this case women, are massively exploited. I believe that this film can be used to discuss the social situation in Germany.
It was important to me not to stylize my protagonists as pure victims because they also have strength. I didn't just want to portray them as sex workers and prostitutes, but as whole personalities with whom you can empathize as a viewer. A lot happens: They fall in love, they miss their families, they have arguments with friends — moments that we as spectators know from our own lives. It was my biggest concern to find a way to access the atmosphere that prevails on the roadside so that you can feel the oppressive silence and loneliness there.
Uschi rents out the love mobiles. She gets €70 ($78) from women every day. Is she perceived as a protagonist or an antagonist?
She is introduced as an antagonist, as a businesswoman. But that image softens with the course of the film. In the end, you realize that she was a prostitute herself, and that she was also abused as a child. I think that changes everything. This is not to say that everything Uschi does is justified, but it does show a system, a chain of abuse of power that leads to another generation of abuse of power.
How hard was it to convince them to tell their story?
I think Uschi has reached an age when she meets things with a smile. We spent a lot of time with her. She saw us like her de facto children. We have different opinions, politically and socially, but somehow, she has a good heart, you have to say.
What is your next project?
It's about the return of wolves in Germany, as a symbol for Germans' fear of this "threat from the East." By talking about the wolf, we are actually talking about people and their fears.