SFF: Whore’s Glory – Sex, money and death with Michael Glawogger.

“Prostitution is not to be condemned or defended,” Mr. Glawogger writes. “Prostitution simply is. It is like war. War is.”

I’ve been out of this film an hour and because I will see so many films over the next week and a half, it is my intention to write about the films after I have seen them.  Whore’s Glory, the documentary on prostitution by super documentary film maker Michael Glawogger was a rather tough place to start considering I’d prefer another week or two to think about this film.  I’m not 100% sure the film works you see.  There are some marvellous overarching themes, but these are nestled in with contradictory scenes that steal from the raw power of the film.

The documentary has no narrator and is merely the (very ULTRA stylized) cameras voyeuristic viewing of “life” inside three brothels from three different cities: Bangkok, Faridpur in Bangladesh and Reynosa in Mexico. The film has very few “tricks” (pardon the pun) being shot in straight interview style – except for the oppressive overall knowledge that the participants were paid to be a part of the documentary. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d try to argue that this is a film about voyeurism, and the role of the sanctified observer in the thriving of prostitution.  But it isn’t.

The film is “about” prostitution, supposedly told with an uncompromised, dispassionate view – but on a subject such as this, how is that even possible?  To be frank, many of the interviews seem set up, from the woman in Mexico saying she loves to have orgasms and to party so its great that she sleeps with 40 men a day, to the Bangladeshi woman crying into the camera asking why women’s lives are so hard.  There is even an appallingly patronizing moment when the camera sits for far too long on two dogs in heated knotted as another male tries to hump the engaged female, presumably to inform us “all the animals” are doing this as well.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as it becomes clearer and clearer throughout the film that prostitution is about money and power. Not sex.  No matter how set up many of the interviews appear, there are some truths that make their way to the surface. Women who are sold by sitting in a giant “fishbowl” in Bangkok (wearing numbers and being pointed at by potential clients) go out after work and spend all their money on male prostitutes, who they point to and purchase in scenarios identical to the ones they have endured all day. Every prostitute, no matter what country she comes from, fears old age because they will literally become completely useless.  Another common theme was religion in the lives of the prostitutes and their clients.  Fascinatingly, whores from every country pray to whatever deity they chose to worship, for a swift and easy death.  Another common theme is the restrictions placed on the clients.  All the men claim these women will do things their girlfriends wont, yet most use condoms (I bet the bulk of the wives have THAT over the whores) and only have access to the women constrained by multiple rules. A repeated theme is the clients plea for intimacy – kissing, tell me your name, falling in love etc, and women’s firm “you don’t do / ask that here honey.”  The cold mechanical approach to sex is relaxed only at seduction and negotiation point – once you have paid your money, it’s all business.  Another thing all the whores have in common is how to make sure the client doesn’t blame you when he can’t get hard or can’t come.  Something that happens all the time.

I was pleased to see the lives of the whores weren’t only painted as pathetic and sad. One Mexican woman explains that a father brought his son to her in order to lose his virginity in a dignified, careful manner teaching him about sex and women. Personally, I’ve thought for some time we should all lose our virginity to whores. I certainly wish I’d had the pluck to lose mine that way.  The whore explains that she took her time, made sure the young man had a very pleasant first experience. Her young client came back to visit her several times after, and at one point brought a friend and introduced her to him as “the woman who made me the man I am today.” However these kinds of stories are a little too rare, and more often than not we are left to face the down side of prostitution. But then these are countries where poverty is a chronic and serious problem.  I have met whores in my own country who are fighting for unionisation and political representation – something I support very strongly. There is no power like that displayed in this documentary. At one point a man in the Bangkok brothel glumly states “we are the commodity here” with an intention to indicate a mutual exploitation, but it never really rings  true. Clients can walk away from prostitution. The whores never ever can.

Another problem with this film – and its a big one – is the music. I am a PJ Harvey fan, but her internal angry churn was out-of-place in the City of Joy in Bangladesh as women are washing out condoms ready to re-use them.  Coco Rosie in her duets with Anthony?  It was all very odd, and deeply intrusive. In some ways it added to the weirdness of our westernized observations and the interviewees responses to our observations, but that is a generous admission on my part. The music really didn’t work.

One last thing to add that was interesting is differing cultural attitudes to sex and prostitution. Bangladeshi clients called their whores “girlfriends” and visited the same one strictly (usually several times a day) and got into domestic rows if they missed a visit. Madams running brothels are called Mother, and parents usually sell the girls into the lifestyle. Bangkok is quite sanitized despite its reputation, with the girls giving less bang for their buck than in the other countries.  The Mexican women do the most, for the least, and were pictured doing drugs to escape their minds after – more in line with the fearsome image of the unwilling whore virtually kidnapped from a poor village and forced to enter the profession. Of course, the camera only takes us into brothels and only into one brothel in each country.  We have no idea what is going on behind the closed-door of the brothel next door.

Overall I did enjoy the film, even if it wasn’t quite as enlightening as I had hoped. I don’t feel it fulfilled it’s rather lofty ideal of a dispassionate perspective, but neither do I think that was ever possible in the first place.