Michael Glawogger's "Whores' Glory"

Michael Glawogger does for documentary film what Ryszard Kapuściński did for journalism: He reinvents it as something immersive, meditative, and poetic. His films condense themes of staggering complexity—economics, labor, sex—into meticulous vignettes of everyday life. Although he has occasionally been derided for aestheticizing poverty, there's little doubt that his audacious style is compelling. Nobody who has seen Megacities, his 1998 film about globalization, can forget those feverish New York City scenes of a hustler shooting dope and robbing his john at knifepoint, just as nobody who has watched Workingman's Death (2005), his portrait of contemporary physical labor, can shake its images of a Nigerian slaughterhouse awash in blood.

His latest film, Whores' Glory, is a virtuoso triptych that captures the economic and spiritual tumult of prostitutes across cultures. In Thailand, women sit patiently on display inside the Fish Tank, a glass room where men can browse before buying. In Bangladesh's City of Joy, more than 600 women compete for customers in a labyrinthine compound that doubles as both brothel and home. And in northern Mexico, La Zona is a decaying motel where women catwalk among doorways, sharply silhouetted, vying to catch the eyes of men cruising by in the dark. Glawogger has described brothels as "ghettos of desire," but, as his film makes clear, they are also shadowlands where ancient dramas of love, lust, beauty, and despair are enacted night after night.

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