It can be hard to trust a documentary made by men about the plight of women-or one made by members of a first world country about a third world. So, when this German doc, produced with such a budget that affords an expert cinematographer and its own hipster catalogue of lilting pop songs, records the condition of prostitutes in three third world countries, a person isn't beyond reason to harbor suspicions. That said, the production value and slick marketing make Whore's Glory look too hip to miss and doc lovers will be pushed aside by audiences thinking the film provides them arthouse cred and a way to see naughtiness shrouded by the absolving aura of education. Those looking for titillation would do better to watch sex hygiene films from the 50s, or Shame for that matter, and if you're in that camp, I suggest looking up "vintage National Geographic" on eBay. The upside there is the naked ladies won't make you feel so sad.
While Bangkok, is famous for its sex tourism, The Fishtank is the most cultivated establishment these cameras show us: it's "Hi Class," as the ads instruct and really makes Thailand look like they have hooking down to a science. With girls dolled up behind glass, we get to hear their buyers discuss how different these girls are from their wives. Outside, in a moment worth derision, the filmmaker captures a row of dogs waiting in line for a bitch in heat. These are the only women we see who make it clear they chose their field and struggle to stay above misery-and that misery exist mostly in subtext, as when men ask for cut rates in front of them or their casual dialogue identifies how their personal lives are hurt by their work.
This is lively compared The City of Joy, an ironically named brothel in the Faridpur region of India. It's particularly hard to understand how a nation with both a caste system and a dowry system in place can still have a brothel district, and it's not for nothing this culture of hookers is the most brutal. A criminally short moment with the oldest call girl in the alley shows her reason for staying is a lack for anywhere else to go-she was a castoff before she entered the field and her veteran status earns her no comfort. Some exchanges are nuanced: one in which we see an older prostitute drag a 15-year-old boy into her room as he and his friends painfully giggle is cut with two tweens talking about their johns. The newer girl asks her friend not to laugh: "Laughter brings sadness, too."
The johns are the most vocal in relatively liberated Reyosa, Mexico, where they visit The Zone and dodge the police on their ways out. The women are surprisingly upbeat-one says she's paid to have fun and another, the one we see THE MOST OF, has the single cutest sales pitch in the history of womanhood, and how confounding is that? Things get a little XX and that's followed with exposition about crack cocaine (complete with smoking) and the sadness of exploitive living. "I sell my body but not my soul" seems a halfhearted dictum. The lewd display of a mentally-challenged girl intermittently removing her clothes and pole dancing is a moment worthy of X-Rated Bunuel, while the one moment deserving of the film's title features an aged hooker on a bed, bare ass up, explaining the honorable tale of one boy's deflowering and the legacy it produced; the red light, thrown clothes and poorly strung Christmas lights evoking Harmonie Korine like it's acceptable here.
There's something incorrect about Whore's Glory. This isn't to say that representations of conceptually ugly things must also look that way-that's almost an illogical conclusion since hookers have to be alluring, even if they are so in a lurid way. But the film is incredibly pop-palatable while it tells stories crushing sadness, and only hints at the exploitation it technically participates in. That camera is paying those prostitutes too; all of it beckons with one hand and bludgeons with the other. As it lets everyone have her say (in a way) it can't be called insensitive, but it's not remarkably conscientious either.
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Director: Michael Glawogger
Genre: Documentary; Thai-, Bengali-, Spanish-, Japanese-, French-, German-languages, subtitled
Rating: Unrated (but featuring XX activity)
Running time: 110 min.
Release date: April 27 NY