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Whores’ Glory

Posted by martinteller on December 21, 2012

Michael Glawogger’s “triptych” documentary examines prostitution in three different regions.  “The Fishtank” in Bangkok is a slick, flashy brothel where the women lure in customers with dance music and laser pointers, and inside the girls are arranged neatly behind glass, identified by number.  “The City of Joy” in Bangladesh is a ramshackle multi-level structure where the prostitutes rarely, if ever, leave and all business is managed by women.  And “The Zone” in Reynosa, Mexico is a shabby collection of decrepit hotels that appear to be populated entirely by the sex workers, some remote location that seems to exist solely for prostitution.

Glawogger provides no narration or background (although his hand is felt in a few instances of obvious staging), letting the prostitutes and johns speak for themselves.  They run the gamut in terms of their taste for the work, but the constant in their lives is commerce.  In Mexico, many seem to do it to maintain a drug habit.  In Bangladesh, the women have few other options for survival.  In Thailand, it almost seems like a simple lifestyle choice, a means as valid as any other to earn a living, at least as long as your looks will support it (though of course it’s never that simple, and the unspoken truth is that the mafia controls a large part of the prostitution in Bangkok and the girls surely don’t make very much).  A few claim to love sex, but at the heart of it is a business transaction, with defined guidelines.

There’s a heavy emphasis on the role of religion in their lives.  Buddhist, Islamic or Catholic, they keep religion in their lives and do so without any sense of hypocrisy.  They don’t appear to see any conflict between their work and their faith… or if they do, they’ve worked it out between themselves and their deities.  Some even pray for more clients.

It is stunningly photographed, with incredibly vibrant colors and fluid on-the-go camerawork.  It’s one of the most “stylish” docs I’ve seen.  The soundtrack is also superb, lots of PJ Harvey (who is so much better than what I remember) and CocoRosie (new to me, but I’ll be checking out more)… although Glawogger tends to lean too heavily on it.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this movie.  Some of it seems a little too on-the-nose (lengthy shot of dogs humping in the street) and I don’t think there’s much to be learned beyond what you already know or would have guessed.  But there are compelling moments, and the level of access (including one quite graphic encounter) allows a closer look than you might expect.  There is some question about the verisimilitude at times, but isn’t it a profession that traffics in lies as much as it traffics in sex?  Rating: Good (77)

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