Sex Work and Human Rights

Berlinale: Films about Sex Workers & the Sex Industry

BerlinaleThe 63rd Berlin International Film Festival is underway and I would like to highlight the films that deal with the lives of sex workers or the sex industry. Please note that the following list may be incomplete and is not necessarily an endorsements of the films in question. For more information and screening times and venues, please click on the links next to the film titles.

Berlinale Special

The Look of Love (UK, 2012) Link

Michael Winterbottom’s biopic of Paul Raymond, the ‘King of Soho’

Look of Love“‘Sex sells’ is the credo which makes Paul Raymond one of Britain’s richest men. His career begins as a nightclub owner where the acts must be so hot that no ‘real man’ would be able to resist them. Using his initial savings to purchase a single building, Raymond is later in a position to buy up entire streets in London’s Soho district. His expanding empire soon includes erotic magazines and theatres and his bank account finally swells to 650 million pounds. But then, his beloved daughter Debbie dies of a heroin overdose at the age of 36 …

After 24 Hour Party People and The Trip, director Michael Winterbottom joins forces once again with his brilliant leading man Steve Coogan to create the bizarre world of a sex maniac. This tale of a latter day King Midas is based on the real life of Paul Raymond, who entered Britain’s history of sleaze as the ‘King of Soho’. Carefully balancing comedy and tragedy, the film creates a humane picture of its eccentric protagonist whilst also drawing a portrait of the second half of the twentieth century.”


Concussion (USA, 2012) Link

Concussion42-year-old Abby is married, well-heeled and a lesbian. She and her wife have two children – they are the perfect family. Then one day she sustains a head injury from a baseball whilst playing with her children and, all at once, her neatly arranged balance of gym, school, family and housework goes awry: “I don’t want this!” is her desperate mantra as she is taken to hospital. She embarks upon a renovation project in the nearby city and, before long, puts both her tidy suburban home and her preordained existence behind her. After twice having sex with prostitutes she too begins working – servicing women only, of course – for probably the most unlikely madam in cinema history.

Welcome to new New Queer Cinema where the women are getting older and the topics more grown-up and less cluttered – or perhaps not? Stacie Passon’s first full-length feature is produced by Rose Troche, director of Go Fish, a lesbian classic of New Queer Cinema which won the 1994 Teddy Award. Theirs is a productive collaboration, as Passon’s reciprocal role as producer of Troche’s latest short demonstrates; it also bodes well for future joint projects.

Don Jon’s Addiction (USA, 2013) Link

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s satire about sex, eroticism and middle-class mores

Don Jon's Addiction“Jon Martello is the best puller in the disco and can, at the end of any given evening, take home the women to whom his mates have given the highest scores on a scale of one to ten. But Jon doesn’t get down to his real passion until his weekend conquests have disappeared. That’s when he opens up his laptop and treats himself to one wank after another. So far so good. But then he comes so deeply under the spell of one young woman that he allows her to overturn his life. His passion for pornography, lack of enthusiasm for his family and even his aggressive driving – all change. And no wonder, when the beautiful new woman in his life is played by none other than Scarlett Johansson. In record time she transforms Jon into a bourgeois average joe. If only there wasn’t the secret porn addiction – even after a breathtaking night with his dream woman. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, lead actor and director of this gaudy satire about sex, eroticism and middle-class mores, pushes self-mockery to the limits until his hero finally falls into the arms of a woman who loves him.”

Love Lace (USA, 2012) Link

Biopic about pornographic-actress-turned-alleged-anti-pornography-activist Linda Susan Boreman aka Linda Lovelace, famous for her performance in the 1972 hardcore porn film Deep Throat

Love Lace“The year 1972 marked the crossover of the film Deep Throat into mainstream cinema where it was to have a decisive impact on the film industry – long before the internet and the pornographisation of society. Chic porn was born. Made in six days on a budget of 25,000 US dollars, Deep Throat grossed over six million dollars. The film turned its hitherto unknown leading lady, Linda Lovelace – who received just 1,250 dollars for her performance – into an instant star and she soon became the sexual revolution’s pin-up girl.

Linda grows up in a devoutly religious family. But once she meets charismatic Chuck Traynor she begins to live life in the fast lane. Traynor invents her ‘sensational talent for oral sex’ and becomes her husband, manager and pimp. The naïve Lovelace blithely takes on her new role – but soon discovers the darker sides of both her husband and the sex industry. As in Inside Deep Throat by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey (Panorama 2005) Oscar-winning duo Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s new work Lovelace once again explores the topics of the porn industry, drugs, exploitation, sex and betrayal; it also depicts the discovery, rise and fall of a porn star.”

Soğuk (Turkey, 2012) Link

Soguk“Balabey and his family live in the traditional way in a small town in Turkey close to the Georgian border. Here, marriages are arranged, and happiness is elsewhere. Balabey lives in his own world and enjoys exercising what little power he has as a sergeant – chiefly being able to make the trains stop and start at will. In the middle of winter, when the landscape and the houses are covered in a thick blanket of snow, he falls in love with the beautiful Russian Irina who works in a brothel with her sisters. For the menfolk, the bordello is a warm place in a cold town, while their wives despair at their husbands’ adulterous behaviour. Balabey’s fragile happiness is soon threatened by his irascible brother, who was forced to marry the sister of Balabey’s heavily pregnant wife. With its stunning images of the landscape, the film unfolds like a Greek tragedy. Balabey is determined to do everything in his power to prevent his beloved Irina from sticking to her plan of returning to Moscow.”

Something in the Way (Indonesia, 2013) Link

Something in the way“Ahmad is a taxi driver in Jakarta. He is addicted to the sex on offer in magazines and videos, the sex he would buy if he could afford it, but which he can only experience alone in front of his television or when secretly masturbating in his taxi. His lonely nights are punctuated by the conversations he overhears between other taxi drivers in which they make snide remarks about prostitutes and talk disparagingly about their wives. Contrasting with his nocturnal solitude are his daily visits to the mosque, where he learns about the importance of purity, morals and the Koran. A flicker of hope appears in Ahmad’s life when he falls in love with his neighbour, a prostitute named Kinar, and begins to act as her driver. But her pimp blocks their relationship. The clash in modern Jakarta between sex as a product and the moral pressures exerted by his religion only confuse Ahmad who wants nothing more than to save Kinar and himself from this sinful life. Shots of the city by night, gloomy interiors awash with red and green, diffuse streetlights and fragments of faces caught in the taxi’s rear-view mirror attend him on his increasingly disturbed sorties across the city.”

All film stills and synopses © Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin


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