Directed by: #CozGreenop
Written by: #CozGreenop
In 2014, Leeds City Council and the West Yorkshire Police set up an area of Leeds as a legal red-light district. Dubbed “Sweet Street”, this is the only initiative of its kind in the country. Unfortunately, this system doesn’t lift sex workers out of their precarious situation but enables them to sell their bodies for longer. Sex work is either demonised or romanticised in film, but Greenop’s latest film shines a harsh bright light on the realities of this precarious and dangerous job instead.
Isabella (Ariadna Cabrol) haunts Sweet Street in her puffer jacket and hooped earrings. She lurks under bridges and stands on street corners. We first see her lying on her back in a car, with neon pink and blue lights glowing above her. A man is having sex with her. This opening moment is so visceral, it feels like a punch to the gut. Isabella returns home, where the evening air is dominated by her next-door neighbours having a blazing row. Her friend Kayleigh (Kimberly Barrett) might provide her with support, but she also enables her to continue taking drugs.
In an obvious yet well-illustrated metaphor, Isabella is a fly in a spider’s web. She’s a fish trapped in a tank. These gentle shots of nature are contrasted with the grainy, drizzly streets of Leeds. The bright orange scales of the clownfish jar with grimy lived-in locations and the techno music that dominate the rest of the film. In the turquoise glow of the garden centre’s fish tanks, Isabella meets Mark (Philip Hill-Pearson). Mark is from a different world to this customer, and their meet-cute feels like a moment where Isabella can finally gasp for air.
Greenop has carefully constructed a short film where Isabella is never demonised. She may take drugs, throw up at house parties and perform sex acts in exchange for money, but he never moralises her actions. The realities of working in such an unforgiving and dangerous industry are pushed up right in front of the viewer’s faces. Isabella is a woman of few words, but it’s obvious she’s been outside of conventional society for so long she’s forgotten how to play her part in it. Mark brings warmth and glimpses of happiness to the film as he takes her on a date to the beach. They sit and watch the tide wash in and out. But as he pushes for a little light conversation, Isabella suffers from cognitive dissidence. Heartbreakingly, she doesn’t know how to deal with a man if he’s not paying for sex.
Tinged with sadness yet bleeding with reality, Sweet Street alerts the audience to the realities of sex work. Whatever utopian ideal Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police dreamt of, the real Sweet Street has only caused more problems and buried old ones. Coz Greenop’s short, inspired by these true stories, never sensationalises sex work. Instead, it brilliantly captures the harsh reality of working in a red light district.