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Les Bureaux de Dieu (God's Offices)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 - 3:00pm

Les Bureaux de Dieu (God's Offices)

Claire Simon | 
France |
 2008 | 
122 minutes


Life inside a family planning clinic is the basis for Claire Simon’s seamless mixture of documentary and performance. The doctors and counselors are played by some of France’s most acclaimed actresses including Beatrice Dalle and Nathalie Baye, while the patients are all non-professional actors. This is largely a female society. The occasional man makes an appearance, holding a baby like one might hold a ticking bomb, but for the most part women’s stories are the heart of the matter. The film was constructed from more than seven years of real dialogue collected by Claire Simon who repurposed these interviews to fit her dramatic structure. Each episode provides a lens through which to better see and understand social mores, the roles of women, and the complexities of sexuality and love. Some women visit the clinic for birth control, others for pregnancy tests, or to schedule terminations. The doctors and counselors offer a full range of services — everything from the most basic sex education — a lecture on how to use a condom is delivered to a group of teenage girls who giggle and cover their eyes — to women already balancing marriage, children, and a career.

Les Bureaux de Dieu (God’s Offices) hearkens back to Claire Simon’s first documentary Les Patients, in its fascination with the relationship between doctors and patients. These interactions possess a semi-religious quality of confession and absolution. There is great gentleness here, but also mystery. This delicate combination is perfectly embodied in a conversation between a 40-year-old sex worker and one of the clinic’s counselors. The woman has become pregnant on three separate occasions, each time with the same man. The counselor wonders at this, but the woman only arches one delicate brow and says, “That’s how it is,” even as a universe of emotion moves across her face. -DW


Claire Simon

Born in London and raised in the Var, France, Claire Simon studied ethnology as well as classical Arab and Berber. While establishing herself in the film industry as an editor, she directed short films, including the 1992 French television series “Scènes de ménage” (10 x 5 minutes) starring Miou Miou. She discovered the practice of documentary filmmaking at the Ateliers Varan workshops and directed several documentaries that were made using V8 at first, then Hi8, and then film. Her early films, “Les Patients”, “Récréations” and “Coûte que coûte”, received awards at the Cinema du Réel International Film Festival among others. Most recently, she has made two feature-length documentary films: “Le bois dont les rêves sont faits”, whose theatrical release is scheduled for early 2016, and “Le concours”, which is currently in post-production. Read more about Claire Simon here.