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WHORE’S GLORY, 2011
Directed by: Michael Glawogger
Tells several stories of prostitution around the world, spanning Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico. The documentary revolves around the lives and individual hopes, needs and experiences of the women.
‘Whores’ Glory’ pulls in a triptych of stories from Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico to document the lives of those working in the sex trade – and the similarities and differences of their situations. The opening third, set in a Bangkok club where women are selected from a glass-panelled “fish tank” is the most coherent, and also the lightest (if anything in this film can be called “light”). The women titter and gossip, playing dress-up and comparing notes, all while being observed and chosen by leering male clients.
The most uncomfortable viewing here is watching the men haggle over the women, and the unsettling image of the red-lit elevator closing on them and their clients. But this third is positively joyous compared to the shift to women working in a brothel in Bangladesh. The conditions are cramped and unsanitary, violence from clients and their female “pimps” is common, and girls as young as thirteen are sold into the situation by parents desperate for money. It’s undoubtedly shocking, and a truthful look at how issues of health, sexism and poverty are more factors in what prostitution is than any moral argument.
But at times this unremitting horror can become flat, and ‘Whores’ Glory’s lack of narration or context is most exposed during this section. It’s saved at its conclusion, though, by a desperate commentary from one of the older women. Past her prime and no longer making money, she laments the place that women have in this world.
This message is lost once again, however, in the final third set in Mexico. The women here are dealt with more specifically, be they pushed into the industry because they “love sex”, or by their drug addictions, or by a displaced, nomadic life. Added to this is the deeply religious aspect of these women’s lives, something that runs through each third of the film – with women in Bangkok praying for more clients, and women in Bangladesh refusing to perform oral sex on religious grounds.
The individual touch in the Mexican third is nice, but the film doesn’t help in bridging the gap between the wider truths about prostitution and these women’s specific experiences. In the end, this is the failing that undermines so much of ‘Whores’ Glory’ – the lack of a guiding hand that doesn’t just show us the experiences of individuals in different continents, but shows us what this all means to the global issue of prostitution.
This film is the third in director Michael Glawogger’s documentary trilogy on globalization, but for now the great, worldwide documentary on sex work remains unmade. That said, this film is worth watching to see how these women get by – because their stories deserve to be heard. As one woman in Bangladesh says: “What is there for women in this world?” The answer, it would seem, is not very much, but perhaps being given the chance to speak is something. An unsettling, if flawed, documentary.