Girls Working: Whores’ Glory

04/25/2012 4:00 AM |

Whores’ Glory
Directed by Michael Glawogger

Opens April 27

Like starring in a feature film, the world’s oldest profession involves more waiting around in costume than actually performing. How this waiting takes place—behind glass with numbers pinned to clothes, on a drab bed in a barely lit room, or in a doorway on a chilly night—economically details the similarities and differences between the trade as practiced in Bangkok, India and Mexico.

Or at least that’s the winking one-liner that can be taken away from a viewing of Whores’ Glory. Staunchly adhering to direct cinema’s credo of showing and not telling, the cameraperson doesn’t even cast a shadow on Michael Glawogger’s matter-of-fact glimpse at How Things Really Are. Aside from the title, there is no evidence of any larger argument or editorializing; “good,” “bad,” “funny” (hands-down winner: the “fake fuck” as explained by a retired Mexican hooker) and “slightly terrifying” moments are tightly stitched together.

Yet where some will seek out and find intimacy in Glawogger’s tactics, others may simply feel like voyeurs. Various working girls have their stories half-told in medias res, complaining about boyfriends, bills, or each other. Certainly, this level of access reflects Glawogger’s three years of immersion in the daily realities and rhythms of his subjects. There’s only one scene of a john getting serviced, but whether or not this had to do with censorship (or possibly propriety—the Indian whores are trained to refuse to give blowjobs absolutely) is unclear. Regardless, it’s unfortunate. There’s something to be said for the roughness and uneasiness of onscreen, unstaged sex; when Glawogger follows two Thai prostitutes to an open-air market where they talk about shirts, it’s an irrelevant bit of “Whores! They’re just like us!” equivalence, more surface fluff than authentic understanding of who these women are.

This is not to say that the film isn’t a masterful piece of documentary filmmaking; in fact, given the legacy of European men pointing cameras at little brown women, Glawogger does a good job of avoiding oversimplifications, exoticism, or pity. But for a film with such fraught subject matter, Whores’ Glory feels ultimately empty. Whether or not that’s the ultimate comment on these lives is unclear.