Whores' Glory, the new film by Austrian director Michael Glawogger (Megacities, Workingman's Death, checks into three countries around the globe to investigate the personal and professional lives of professional sex workers. The director and his crew visit "The Fishtank" in Bangkok, the "City of Joy" in Faridpur, Bangladesh, and "The Zone" in Reynosa, Mexico, where the women and their customers are surprisingly happy to speak to Glawogger about their experiences.
In terms of the conditions in which the women are asked to work, Glawogger goes roughly from best to worst. At The Fishtank, the women sit in a brightly lit room that equates to a showroom floor, complete with male employees who pitch the women (identified by number nametags) to potential customers. Inside, the women have regular conversations, about their lives and work, while they wait for someone to choose them. The business seems pretty professional: the women punch in and out, there's a senior staff member to comfort them if they have any problems, and the clientele generally appear to be professional businessmen. Still, there are some soul-crushingly awkward moments, such as the one where a customer repeatedly tries to barter the price down with his woman of choice standing right in front of him.
In Faridpur, the situation is more desperate. The women appear to live in some sort of apartment complex with other sex workers on every floor, and they fiercely compete with one another for business. Repeatedly, Glawogger shows us the women cutting their own rates in order to keep a reluctant client, as well as one of the women in charge ("pimp" seems like the wrong word) screaming at one of her employees who screwed up a rendezvous and began to cry. The situation in Bangladesh is the most outwardly sad. An older woman is interviewed, who quietly notes that her age is impacting her business, and another, younger girl confesses that she wishes life was easier for women. However, two interviews stand out above all others: a barber who casually theorizes that without the sex industry, rapes and sexual assault would be far more common, and one of the "managers," who calmly and philosophically reasons that her five-year-old daughter will almost certainly end up being a whore herself.
Lastly, in Mexico, the situation is sad, but a different kind of sad, one that the residents and workers don't seem aware of. The Zone is a muddy little "city" with rows of tiny, 10 foot by 10 foot "apartments." The girls stand in the doorways while cars, mostly with tinted windows, crawl along the streets until they find a woman they like. Glawogger gets a little distracted here, following a woman who wanders the city, shirt pulled up and pants pulled down, cheering to nobody in particular. More on-topic: brief, explicit clips of an actual session to really drive the point home, and close out the picture.
The Bangkok segment raises the film's most interesting questions. The women working in Bangkok don't seem to have a second thought about their profession. Glawogger follows along as they discuss getting a second job to help pay the bills, like becoming massage artists who offer happy endings. Some of the women also discuss their relationships, which legitimately sound worse than their work. "At least it's only two hours at a time," they lament; their abusive boyfriends want it all the time, and their actual relationships put them in a far more subservient position than sex at work. For some it will beg the question whether or not it's more dehumanizing to not give sex work a second thought or to depend on it like the women in Banglaedesh and Mexico do, but from what Glawogger shows us, this is a safe, professional environment and the women have plenty of control over what they will and won't do. He also gets the most intriguing interviews, including a bunch of guys who embody the worst aspects of male victimhood, blaming their wives and the monotonous nature of marriage. "We're the commodity!" says one man, in a way that is both kind of true, yet clearly indicates he doesn't understand at all.
On the other hand, the contrast between Bangkok and the other two countries makes for a tonally confusing film. Glawogger has a real eye for visuals, capturing the atmosphere and awkwardness of the whole business, but he often gets distracted by natural metaphors without wanting to make a specific point. In Bangkok, he includes a few minutes of dogs desperately humping outside the establishment, but it's not clear if he's condemning or forgiving people's animal nature. In Bangladesh, there's more of a focus on victimized women, but there are also women who seem no more or less in control of their work as the women in Bangkok, raising the question of whether this is just the difference between the two countries or an indication of selective focus. The film is visually memorable, painting a vivid picture of life in a certain field in three drastically different countries, but without a driving disposition or statement, Whores' Glory is little more than a snapshot without a caption.
Whore's Glory comes with art straight out of the documentary template: a strip with the title on it, and a bunch of photos. Most of the women in the photos are not actually from the film itself, captured in the same places at the same time as the documentary, but not actually from the film itself. The disc comes in a standard plastic-conserving eco-case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 "German" audio (nobody is dubbed, so it's really just a general "original" audio), this looks and sound like the average documentary does on DVD. The image and sound are generally impressive, with Glawogger preferring 16mm to a digital format, but the image is nonetheless a little rougher around the edges than a fictional feature film would generally look on DVD. Some posterization, artifacting, and aliasing are visible if one is looking for them, but colors and detail are generally impressive, especially in Bangkok, where neon lights are nicely rendered. The audio accurately captures the environments in which the sound was recorded: the interior of a club, a grungy apartment hallway, and the dull echo of the tiny rooms in The Zone. Subtitles are burned in, which is never optimal, but the real crime is how small they are.
Just a photo gallery. An original theatrical trailer for Whores' Glory is also includes, along with trailers for Elles and Meet the Fokkens.
Those with an interest in the nature of the sex industry in foreign countries will probably find this documentary more interesting than reading about conditions online, but Glawogger is reluctant to make any sort of judgment call on what he's seen in these three countries. Through the first and most of the second segment, the movie is fine without his disposition, but by the end the film lacks something to bring the three segments together into some sort of cohesive message. Rent it.
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