The Price of False Illusions
For the first 15 minutes of this film, there was nothing that I was watching that distinguished it from being a documentary or a piece of cinema verite fiction. There is no narration, the action unfolds through glimpses of natural human interaction. But I began to doubt the reality of some of the scenarios. Not because what I was seeing didn’t seem authentic or natural, but because the people being filmed displayed no awareness of the camera. For example, when two customers were being shown through a brothel, they continued to speak candidly, even though the camera at times would have been only two feet away. At no point did they say, “Hey, what’s with the camera?” Later in the film there is a tracking shot of a young prostitute pacing through the corridor of a crowded Bangladesh brothel. It’s reminiscent of the classic kitchen-restaurant sequence in Goodfellas (and Swingers for that matter). She never looked at the camera, but maintained her anguished intensity, like a good actress. Logic told me that they must have been told to ignore it. Therein lies a fundamental paradox in documentary – once you put a camera in a room, things cease to be real, but pretend to be real.
I went with it. This is not a criticism. I trusted that despite the possibility that some things were potentially staged or re-enacted, I was still privy to a real world, real human beings, and a real portrait of life. I’ve read that Glawogger has been criticised for this, and I love what he says in response.
“It would be horrible if it would be objective! There is no such thing, it’s just a huge big lie. If anyone says it exists it would bore the shit out of everybody. Filmmaking is like an art. You have a stand-point and the view of the world and you show it. Everything else is nothing. So, what’s the talk about being objective? It doesn’t exist. You can’t depict reality without interference, without making a craft of it, without showing it through your eyes. It just doesn’t exist. It’s a myth.”
The director Michael Glawogger must be influenced by Fred Wiseman, who shoots hundreds of hours of footage before cutting it into 90 minutes. An inevitable (or conscious) narrative emerges. The story is told in the editing, not in the frame. Like Wiseman’s films, the cinematography in Whores’ Glory is stunning. Every frame is beautifully composed. Some shots looked like Nan Goldin stills. It’s no surprise he has a background in photography. A lesson for filmmakers. You don’t need to make your fiction look like documentary. Throw ‘cinema verite’ out the window. Because, like I said, here is a documentary that looks like fiction. There was no jerky hand-held motion – all the camera movement was fluid, with smooth tracking shots and gorgeous framing. An incredible sequence in a Mexican bar with an old woman selling roses, and just as she exits the frame the camera pans around to hold on a band just as they begin to play, perfectly composed of course! In true documentary form, it’s about capturing the moments. The madam yelling in a rage was priceless. You never see human behaviour like this in film acting. Why not? Is it too real? The Mexican man cruising in his car whilst delivering a monologue – everything he said, in all it’s depravity, was perfect. It could not have been scripted better. The retired Mexican prostitute describing how to fellate with ice – pure gold. This concept of captured moments was perhaps epitomised by the shot of a pack of four dogs fucking. The camera held on these animals for over a minute. Now, that may seem indulgent, and not at all servicing the narrative, but it is this kind of audacity that makes me trust a filmmaker – I sense he wants me, the viewer, to think for myself.
I later read that Glawogger shot this on 16mm. “It looks a little warmer for me and I don’t really in an artistic way like the over-sharpness of digital imagery. Imagery is your paint, it makes something of a film if you do it this or that way. And also I always enjoyed the restriction of not filming everything or from every angle without even knowing why and how. So, I like to think about it, I like to create an image of my film and the restriction that film has is something valuable is something that works for my process of working. It’s very easy to become irrelevant if you come to the set with camera already turned on and you film everything all the time. It’s really hard to stay relevant these days.”
It’s so reassuring to have a filmmaker devoted to a philosophy. Love it, love, love it. It reminds me of Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, a fantastic discussion.
Everything I’ve discussed so far is in regards to the filmmaking – the form, and not the content. At the risk of repeating myself, I believe when it comes to art, form is everything. It’s not what you tell, but how you tell it. But this is a film about prostution.
“There is beauty in the most tragic moments and there is aggression and boredom in the ordinary. There is hope in war and war in hope. Films that offer resolutions are nothing but bad art, because they cannot truly explore the diversity of the human soul.” – Michael Glawogger
The content. What can I say? There is an irony to the exchange, which ties in to the documentary form itself. What is real and what is fantasy? A prostitute pretends to herself it’s not real while pretending to the client that it is. These women are actresses.
This film only leaves me with questions. I thank Mr Glawogger for making it. I believe his intention is to open our eyes, our awareness. Being privy to this devestating world was saddening, confronting. I was left with very little hope. In fact, that seemed to be the consistent theme – a lack of hope. These girls are trapped for life.
What disturbed me most was the attitudes of the men. And if there is a solution to this problem – and in my opinion it is a problem – we need to examine why men’s attitudes are the way they are. Why do Bangladeshi women need to be married off by the age of 20? Why are the men so horny? As one man said, if it weren’t for the brothels the men would be raping women in the streets, and if not women, goats and cows. Really? It seems that brothels and prostitution are a symptom of a greater problem, not a cause of the problem. If there were a genuine human need for this kind of exchange, why are the men so disconnected from intimacy? Why are the women involved so broken, so in need of love? And that is what is missing in this whole business – love.