The conclusion to internationally renowned director Michael Glawogger’s globalization trilogy, following Megacities (1998) and Workingman’s Death (2005), Whore’s Glory depicts the skin trade in three economically divergent countries. In the red-light district of Faridpur, Bangladesh, a madam haggles over the price of a teenage girl, and in the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, crack-addicted women pray to a deity named Lady Death.
It is a “daring, novelistic and unforgettable” (Salon.com) documentary that is both shocking and shockingly beautiful, and will change the way you think about the sex industry in the modern era.
Whores’ Glory 7.5
eyelights: its unflinching look at life in brothels.
eyesores: its limited scope.
I don’t know if ‘Whores’ Glory’ would have been on my radar if my gf hadn’t picked it out. I wanted to show her this awesomely cool indie video store that I go to regularly, but that she lives too far from to frequent, and, in the short time we browsed, she went to the documentary section and picked this one out.
We weren’t actually renting that day, but I came back a few days later and got it for her.
I’m not drawn to documentaries. While I usually like them when I watch them, when I choose a movie I usually want some form of escape. And docs are the antithesis of that: they provide a slice of reality (albeit often a subjective slice). So they tend to end up very low on my list, even though I have tons of them.
Add to this the fact that this is a documentary about the sex trade and I can’t say that I would typically be pulled; the idea of seeing people being exploited for real or hear about the limited options that have led women to making such choices really felt too sobering to me – especially given that I generally consider sex sacred.
But, seeing as I was lining up a series of films relating to prostitution and knew that a few grittier ones were coming, I decided that maybe I should muster up enough courage to give this one a chance. Given that I had someone to watch it with, I was enboldened enough to make a leap I would otherwise likely never have made.
‘Whores’ Glory’ is an unusual documentary in that it provides no narrative and very little structure. If anything, it’s a voyeuristic film that forces us to observe the women of three different brothels in three different countries at work. There is no voice-over, no apparent interaction with the filmmakers. We merely observe.
Obviously there had to be some interaction with the filmmakers and the participants or else the film wouldn’t have been made. And, thus, one can’t imagine this to be purely objective – this is not National Geographic. After all, the camera comes in close, capturing the travails of these women maybe a little too personally for comfort at times.
The brothels are introduced and explored sequentially in the following order:
1. Thailand: Here we visit the Fish Tank, a brothel where young women are seated as a group behind a glass – in a display case of sorts inside this huge warehouse-like environment. They each have a number and are selected by male clients, sometimes with the suggestion of a staff member. It was weird to watch the men just sitting there considering their options, and then seeing some of them try to haggle their way to a deal – as though they weren’t getting off cheap (pun intended). But, mostly, watching women subjected to an environment akin to a pet store, like puppies waiting in the storefront window for someone to choose them, was uncomfortable, dehumanizing. The women who draw the clients in by dancing in the windows above the street have it good in comparison. And yet all of the ones we see seem to treat this as just another job, akin to to working retail. Yikes.
2. Bangladesh: This brothel sucks the life out of anyone exposed to it. It’s like a small, cramped village of prostitutes, most of which are underaged by North American standards. Clients wander about this so-called ‘City of Joy’ to find a young girl and spend some time with them in her room. There’s people everywhere and it feels like part-village, part-market, with some of the prostitutes trying desperately to convince potential johns while other just stand there looking miserable. Which, let’s face it, they are: some of them have been sold to the madam of the house at a very young age and have no way to escape and know no other life than this. It was weird to see how some of the men and women acted like couples, even though their relationship was a transaction. One young man admitted that he couldn’t spend a day without going there, and even went many times a day – that this was all he thought about. Wow… I suppose that limited options might lead one to this, but it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around this.
3. Mexico: This brothel here is more akin to what one might imagine: horrible conditions, skanky hookers, nasty-looking clients you can’t trust so far as you can spit. It’s not nearly as “ghetto” as Bangladesh, but it’s very slum-like, with the women working from these shacks that men drive by at night, looking at what’s on offer – with the women standing there passively, almost indifferently. The women are tattooed, sometimes overweight, and generally look unhealthy – especially the ones who have been doing this for a long time (one of whom is a veteran and looks it). We also get to see one of the younger women doing crack with one of her friends on their spare time and take care of a client while whoring. Joy. It doesn’t make one want to partake in any of this life; it looks hopeless and desperate. Which, let’s face it, it likely is. Sigh…
These segments aren’t edited together, overlapped or juxtaposed. These could easily have been 30-minute episodes of a documentary television series or three short films. I wish I understood the filmmakers’ approach on this one, because it suggests objectivity when we all know that there is no way to truly be objective.
Furthermore, why were those particular brothels picked? What made them stand apart from the other ones in those countries, or even in those towns? Why only three of them? Why these countries? Surely Amsterdam would have been an interesting place to contrast with the others… why was it missing from this film?
I wish that there was a “making of” documentary of a behind-the-scenes film that would at least provide insight into the filmmakers’ intentions, if not answer all the questions one might have about format and structure of the picture. How did their approach influence the film’s outcome? Did they achieve exactly what they set out to do initially?
In the end, no matter whether the film was a successful documentary or not, it was still interesting to watch life in those brothels, to see what goes on in these places that I will hopefully never see with my own eyes, that I will always only hear about. It wasn’t entirely depressing, but it was certainly a sobering sight.
And, for me, it only served to cement my impression that there is no glory in that way of life. And yet, for some women (and many girls, unfortunately), there is no other way, no other choice. And this lack of freedom, this inability to choose their own destiny is probably the most dispiriting aspect of it all.
Date of viewing: August 23, 2013