Ladybitch is not just a powerful film, it’s also a film about power. This mockumentary aims to shed light on sexual harassment in theatre and the personal and professional challenges young actresses have to go through. The story centres around an aspiring actress, Ela, who gets the part of a sex worker in a new play by a famous older director Frank Kramer with a new, supposedly feminist angle. The play, however, becomes a toxic trap as Ela realises Kramer is sexually harassing her. Theatre starts to blend with real life, creating a claustrophobic pattern that she has to break away from.
Directors Marina Prados and Paula Knüpling are partners in film and in life Both former theatre actresses, they’ve used their personal traumatic experiences to create a fierce feminist social commentary on sexual abuse, power, queerness and MeToo.
Ladybitch is about the sexual abuse experienced by actresses … and it’s made by two ex-actresses. How much of the story was inspired by personal experience?
My partner and I were both actresses and we experienced a lot of abuse of power. I personally suffered sexual abuse from one of my teachers while studying acting in Spain. In February 2021, I decided to go public. It was so good to open up, and a lot of people from school and from all over the country reached out to me saying they’d had similar experiences.
I always felt really alone and thought: ‘Who am I to talk about it? Nobody.’
So, me and Paula decided to do a movie about it. Too often cinema deals with the extreme side of things – mostly rape. But, for a lot of people, it’s the smaller things: when they force us to kiss them, or when they fuck up our careers. We wanted to talk about that!
So, are you on a social mission with this movie?
Absolutely! We do have an agenda, we are super political. Paula and I believe that first comes what we want to say and then comes how. We did this movie to start a dialogue.
I also remember that me and Paula didn’t even talk with each other about the abuse we’d experienced. I always felt really alone and thought: “Who am I to talk about it? Nobody.” But when you hear people share what has happened to them, it’s like: “Okay, I am a person.” It’s a way of healing. We hope that Ladybitch makes you want to talk about why these situations happen.
The film feels very intimate…
Since we had such a small budget, we knew the focus would be on our actors. Ladybitch is very character based, driven by emotions and actions. The actors had a lot of freedom to do what they wanted. We tried to remain really flexible during the shooting, to make it super realistic: so you feel like you are there!
How did you go about picking actors for the lead roles?
Celine Meral, who played the main protagonist, was our friend. We’ve wanted to make a movie with her for a long time. She’s also had experience with sexual abuse, so it was super important to work together on the character’s lines, their emotions.
We were working on Ladybitch for a year: wrote it in two months, prepared and did the casting in a month, shot in 10 days… When I say that, everybody’s like: “What the fuck?! How did you do that in a year?” It was a crazy time.
How does it feel to work with one’s life partner throughout the entire process of making a film?
We have worked for years in theatre, so we understand each other artistically and creatively – and we balance each other so much! It’s important that there’s not just one genius person who knows all the answers. There is a power balance: everything’s calm and collaborative. It just feels natural to do what we’re doing, even if we’re a couple.
What was the inspiration behind the movie’s visuals?
What inspired Paula and me was this mix of theatre and emotional realism. How theatre, even though it’s fake, becomes real. Towards the end of Ladybitch it gets even more extreme: the director is always saying “Don’t worry, this is just theatre, it’s not real,” but it has a reality factor! It is this clash that interested us: of classics with the contemporary and of the theatrical with reality.
They force us to kiss them, or… they fuck up our careers. We wanted to talk about that!
The film received the Max Ophüls Preis 2022 for best film of social relevance as well the best film and best actress awards at Achtung Berlin Filmfestival. What was the feedback like with audiences?
We did the movie with theatre funding, so we had a super small budget, like sixty-six thousand euros. Yet, we got selected at big festivals and even won a lot of prizes. But the best feedback was from the audience. It’s a film for them more than anybody else. I hear a lot, mostly from queer women, that this movie is so empowering. It doesn’t come from a place of negativity. It’s like: “Okay, what can we do to get out of this situation?” And there’s hope that we’ll get together and demand change. I’m excited to see how we, as young women, find a new way of relating to bosses. It’s possible!
Do you think there’s more to say about abuse and queerness? What’s coming next?
Paula and I are already working on our next feature film, which will cover the theme of systemic abuse. Sexual abuse, especially after #MeToo in 2016, is a big topic for us, but behind that is a bigger problem: abuse of power. We’d like to go beyond what Ladybitch covers and examine the bigger picture, how people caught in this situation question their own mental health.