From Kosovo 2.0
Whore’s Glory is being shown 8pm tonight at Kino Kalaja
“Whore’s Glory,” the third and final installment of Michael Glawogger’s Hieronymus Bosch-inspired triptych on globalization, examines the world’s oldest profession in three vastly different cultures and religious contexts. The latter distinction is more important here, as Glawogger frequently returns to the assumed contradictions between modern whoredom and religious devotion. But like Godfrey Reggio’s well-examined “Qatsi” trilogy, “Whore’s Glory” is also a city symphony, and its urban landscapes and nonhuman elements are as alive and driven by need and commerce as are the bodies on sale.
Glawogger, who is Austrian, eschews the Teutonic narration of his fellow documentarian Werner Herzog, and instead allows those he captures on film to speak for themselves. The film begins in Bangkok, where girls working at a brothel pray to a Buddhist shrine before clocking into work on a time card. Here, sex work feels like a well-integrated component of an almost androgynous society, where female prostitutes leave work to visit well-coiffed “bar boys” at a club frequented by gay men and rich Japanese women. The brothel girls sit dispassionately behind glass in an establishment known as the “fish tank.” They complain and gossip as customers pick them out by the numbers pinned to their tops. In Bangkok, with its neon lights and modern urbanity, prostitution looks as streamlined and sanitized as factory work.
After Bangkok, Glawogger takes us to a much different setting: the so-called City of Joy in Faridpur, a district in central Bangladesh. Unlike the prostitutes in Bangkok, the women in the City of Joy are more or less confined, living in a chaotic, claustrophobic network of rooms out of which they work and compete with their neighbors for clients. The City of Joy is an impoverished space, where madams brutalize the prostitutes living under their “care,” where girls that look barely past puberty are bought and sold. Female babies born to mothers will grow up to become prostitutes themselves. It is here that prostitution seems to reach its apex of open and admitted misery. In one scene, we see a very young girl asking the camera, “Why do women have to suffer this much? Isn’t there another path for us?” Sex work here is nonconsensual, though the women do retain some agency in that they refuse to perform certain sex acts. As one woman explains, she does not perform oral sex because Allah did not create her mouth for that purpose.
The film ends with a segment in Reynosa, Mexico, a city just across the border from McAllen, Texas. Here, we encounter the Catholic obsession with mortality and self-abasement, as women pray to a deity known as “Lady Death” and describe in lurid detail the sex acts they regularly perform. Until this point in the film, the sex part of prostitution has not been overt. In Reynosa, however, women and men talk and boast about it openly. It is also in Reynosa that one prostitute allows the cameraman to shoot a scene of her having sex with a john, a private moment striking for its lack of intimacy and for its purely transactional nature. The women in Reynosa are older and more experienced than the women and girls in Bangkok and Bangladesh, and they are also addicted to crack. They pray only for a good death.
Glawogger has been accused of aestheticizing poverty. In the absence of a narrator, the director has inserted several songs from prominent Western performers, such as PJ Harvey and Coco Rosie. The music has a dissociative effect, one that may mirror the women’s psychological means of coping with their work. Though the music enhances viewers’ experience watching the film, it does seem to place them at a greater distance from the subject.
That said, “Whore’s Glory” is, for the most part, uncomfortably close to the lives of the women it follows. Glawogger’s subjects are rendered radically bare. While watching the film is not always pleasant, perhaps it shouldn’t be. The tight, challenging vantage point allows the viewer to take in the multitude of experiences of women who perform sex work, often (but not always) under threat or coercion, every day, everywhere in the world.