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Venice and Toronto 2011. Michael Glawogger's "Whores' Glory"

A doc on "the relationships between men and women in contemporary society that yields telling and ambivalent insights."

"Michael Glawogger, Austria's most enigmatic filmmaker, continues his pendulum movement between fascinatingly diverse fictions — as evidenced by 2009's one-two yin-yang-punch of Contact High and Kill Daddy Goodnight — and globe-spanning documentaries like the 1998 Megacities or the 2005 Workingman's Death." Christoph Huber in Cinema Scope: "Following in the latter's footsteps, Glawogger's docu-essay Whores' Glory caps, as the press book biography dryly states, 'his trilogy about working environments.' … Thriving on contradiction and observational curiosity as usual, Glawogger still resolutely rejects social cause-pandering, but scratches for something deeper by contrasting the rituals of love (for sale) in three different cultures, religions and economies: a look not just at prostitution, but the relationships between men and women in contemporary society that yields telling and ambivalent insights. Another major work, and the only Austrian feature-length film of importance in the upper echelons of the festival circuit this year."

And Huber and Olaf Möller talk with Glawogger in Die Presse (and in German).

"All of the 'girls' work indoors rather than soliciting on the street, although the conditions in the three establishments featured, in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico, vary greatly in terms of atmosphere, space, noise, technology and modernity," writes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter: "As depicted here, bordello life is sometimes hard ('I've cried enough for a lifetime') but by no means unendurable, so there will be viewers who may criticize Glawogger for presenting a slightly sanitized, upbeat portrait of an industry that features no shortage of exploitation and misery. It goes without saying that Glawogger could only have gained access to those relatively 'respectable' premises which were happy to have his crew inside their doors so savvy audiences will know to take everything they see and hear in this particular film with some degree of skepticism. That said, Glawogger's sensitive and patient approach does yield plausibly candid interviews, some unexpectedly moving: 'Men don't realize how we sacrifice our sense of shame for money,' says one working girl."

The doc is "accompanied by superb music selections, which not only capture the atmosphere of lubricious carnality, but always amplify and complicate what we're seeing, rather than narrowing the viewer's focus," blogs Kieron Corless for Sight & Sound. "The film looks amazing too; Glawogger must be the world's foremost visual poet of cities at night, of sodium- and strip-lights. Like his previous films Megacities and Workingman's Death, it's a complex, multifaceted, non-judgemental study of working conditions and what it takes to survive in these environments. There are horrors, for sure, but also pleasures, and a great deal of exuberance and togetherness."

"It's in [the] last section that Glawogger is allowed to film a prostitute servicing a client in full, hardcore detail, in a sequence that looks a little staged judging by the multiple camera angles used," suggests Leslie Felperin in Variety. "Although the scene takes Whore's Glory to a logical conclusion of sorts, some auds may feel it cheapens the film. It might have been more audacious and subversive, in a way, to let an earlier scene of two dogs having sex stand as the only act of intercourse seen in the whole film."


More clips: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Update: "The Bangkok part, subtitled 'The Fish Tank,' is very superficial," argues Kong Rithdee in the Bangkok Post. "Not that I'm particularly well-versed in the business of the fish tank — the nickname of the glass room through which prostitutes display themselves in massage parlors — but because the film cannot cross over the lure of exoticism. That hookers also pray is hardly a revelation, since spiritual belief doesn't only belong to 'the good women.' What also bugs me is the fact that Whores' Glory uses actors (at least two that I recognize) to pose as customers who visit the fish bowl, and they say lines that sound forced and banal and that do not add to anything we've understood, rightly or wrongly, about the profession. By the way, I doubt if the film will ever get to play in Bangkok, not even at film festivals, because the censors would fly into a rage at some of the images depicted here — and I don't just mean the acknowledgement of the sex trade."

Update, 9/9: "Throughout, Glawogger's shooting style is powerful and effective, even enticing," writes Pasquale Cicchetti in Reverse Shot. "Despite this, I have doubts about the direction of the director's gaze, as well as our position as viewers. Was Glawogger trying to witness, and to understand, or was he just looking for something to show, to exploit, or even — given the hellish vision at the end — exhibit nothing more than profanity and damnation?"

Update, 9/10: "The only regrettable element are the musical impositions of rockers PJ Harvey and CoCo Rosie on the third world proceedings," finds Fandor's Kevin B Lee. "Glawogger does so much to immerse us directly in these worlds that it's a puzzle why he leans on the music to convey meaning."

Update, 9/11: For the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "the film's break from the usual earnest, stat-filled exposé is a large part of its appeal, and Glawogger's attention to color and composition don't diminish the quality of the testimony or dip into porn-y exploitation…. Visually indifferent advocacy docs on sex trafficking are commonplace; here Glawogger stands out as a real filmmaker."

Having screened in the Orizzonti section in Venice, Whore's Glory now heads to Toronto and London. If you're on your way to Toronto, too, tiffr is a simple yet powerful way to schedule your festival. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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