The Austrian film director Michael Glawogger aptly describes his documentary "Whores' Glory" with the words in the title of this review. The film is the third in a series of documentaries, together with "Workingman's Death" and "Megacities" that Glawogger calls his "globalization trilogy", but knowledge of the earlier two films is unnecessary for the appreciation of this third documentary. The film offers a raw, intimate look at a profession that is both ancient and universal. Glawogger tries to approach prostitutes and their clients in a nonjudgmental, nonsentimenalized way as if the subject were being approached for the first time.
The film is a "triptych" because it examines prostitution in three diferent countries, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico, each of which has its own political structure, economics, language, and dominant religion. The movie suggests that prostitution is closely tied to the mores of the country in which it occurs while it still fulfuills what appears to be a universal human need, both for the women and for their clients. The word "triptich" also has a religious connotation for Glawogger as he tries to treat his subjects with respect. In a similar way, the title "Whores' Glory" can be taken ironically. But Glawogger also wants to take "glory" seriously as "a gesture of respect for the working girls of the world." The women in the film struggle to maintain a degree of distance, independence, and self-respect.
The film does not use professional actors. Glawogger worked painstakingly in his three locations to get the consent of the women and their clients to appear in the film. The scenes are as candid as can be expected under the circumstances. The women and the men answer various interview questions but more often are seen interacting with one another. More than in any other line of work, time is money, and the women in the film were paid for their time.
The first part of the movie takes place in an establishment in Bangkok,Thailand called the Fish Bowl, which is patronized mostly by Thai natives and by Chinese rather than by Westerners. It is an upper middle class establishment and the women are shown trying to lead independent lives, and to arrive at work and leave by punching a clock. They sit behind a large predominantly one-way glass mirror that allows the guests to view them and make a selection. The girls are identified by numbers. The movie shows the girls behind the glass, getting ready for work, socializing afterwords, and in the early stages of interacting with their clients after they are chosen.
The second scene takes place in Faridphur,Bangladesh, a city with a fragile economy heavily dependent upon prostitution. It explores a large, filty, airless compound called "The City of Joy" inhabited by between 600 -- 800 women. Young girls are frequently sold into the compound, and once in, it is virtually impossible to escape.The women leave the compound only rarely. The business often is passed down by families from mother to daughter. In the film, prostitutes line the dark, dungeon-like walkways of the compound beckoning to clients, both their regulars and newcomers. There are scenes of the rooms and of women, old and young, discussing their activities with the film director. In one scene, a 15 year old prostitute tells Glawogger: "We try to forget sadness with a little laughter but the pain remains."
The final scene of the film is set in the "Zone of Toleration" in an alley in Reynosa, Mexico, near the Texas border. Men cruise the streets at all hours in cars and on foot. The women make the first move when they sense a man is interested. The women in Renosa tend to worship an ancient goddess of death as the pursue their business. The movie shows the drug, alcohol and violence laden world of the women while also showing their persistence and cameraderie. This portion of the film shows, unlike the first two sections, and encounter between a woman and a man from the moment of their first encounter on the street, through the cold, business-like, and not fully consummated transaction in the apartment, and concluding with the farewell. It is an unsentimental, unerotic business.
There is little that is erotically exciting in this film. But the movie offers a difficult to find, insightful look at prostitution. The scenes of the brothels and the streets are lurid but convincing. The movie accords the women in their vulnerability and toughness a grudging respect. "Whore's Glory" is not a pretty movie, but it rewards watching by anyone who wants to try to understand prostitution.