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The Myth of the Happy Hooker Debunked in Blunt and Beautiful Whores' Glory

As with meat processing and politics, the day-to-day drama, tedium, and heartbreak of prostitution have little to do with our spoon-fed fantasies or well-intentioned wishful thinking about the profession. Michael Glawogger's fearless Whores' Glory demystifies trick turning with a bluntness and sneaky artistry that's sure to make even the most jaded of us choke on our next sitcom-hooker-joke chuckle.

Not that Glawogger—an Austrian provocateur whose earlier films Megacities (1998) and Workingman's Death (2005) comprise with this one a gruesome, damning autopsy of global capitalism—aims for shock alone; if that were the case, he'd likely have picked a cameraman other than Wolfgang Thaler, whose lush setups look like they took days to compose and light, and less sedate soundtrack artists than PJ Harvey or those grating frauds CocoRosie. Instead, Glawogger is more interested in the ways whoredom supports and contradicts a culture, and to that end divides Whores' Glory into three distinct parts and locales.

The first sets the stage in a "fishbowl" brothel in Bangkok, where middle-class johns live out their glitzy porn fantasies in streamlined, near-antiseptic conditions. The shock here comes from how matter-of-fact it all is: The workaday routine of the girls, whom Glawogger eavesdrops on more than profiles, generally puts the "grind" in "bump and grind." It's in the second segment, in a prostitution district in primarily Muslim Faridpur, Bangladesh, that the ghastly sadness and lack of options inherent in the trade truly surface. This is a cinder-block commercial containment zone (or as one madam puts it, "a whorehouse, not a fucking family dinner") where dozens of women and girls vie (sometimes violently) for a steady stream of men who wouldn't acknowledge them in any other setting and forestall impoverished, lonely old age as best they can. The final third, in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, brings the baroque: Drive-through hooking is the norm, while between gigs—and we finally see what whores do for their money here—the women, many of whom were kidnapped into prostitution, bond over hard drugs and a black-magic strain of Catholicism, and openly long for their eventual delivery by Santa Muerte.

Whores in Thailand
Vinai Dithajohn
Whores in Thailand

Details

Whores' Glory
Directed by Michael Glawogger
Kino Lorber
Opens April 27, Lincoln Plaza and Cinema Village

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Glawogger stumbles into cliché in this last section, as he does in a jokey scene in Bangkok of protracted canine copulation: Mexico is presented as lawless and mystical yet again, and its specific complications get lost in the swirl. Whores' Glory could also be accused of having too narrow of a focus overall, but its unwillingness to look away makes it, like the films of Frederick Wiseman, enlightening, sublimely uncomfortable, and necessary all the same. And if Glawogger resists feeling anything besides clinical interest in his case studies, it hardly detracts from their humanity, which might be the only glory anyone can hope for.

 
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