Sex is for sale everywhere. The marketplaces vary depending on the society, and they are reflections of it. Michael Glawogger
observed the business in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico in more or less forbidden zones semi-concealed in the societys
shadows, then created a triptych on prostitution which is filled with powerful images. An interview with the director.
The theme of prostitution has been touched upon again and again in your works such as Megacities and Workingmans Death. How was it chosen as the theme of a film project?
Michael Glawogger: Its certainly correct to say that Whores Glory is an extension of the Cassandra episode in Megacities, since I noticed how complex the theme can be, which is already visible in that scene: Religious matters are involved, man-woman
relations, intimate things such as the discussion of sexuality. In particular, the films based on a short scene in Megacities
which we shot in an alley. There was a ritual I called single-filing, which went like this: The men stood there
in a semi-circle, and prettily dressed-up prostitutes walked in a circle. The rules of the game, if you want to call it that,
are that the men dont do the choosing, a woman occasionally leaves the line and steps over to a man to talk to him.
She has to do that before he can choose her. In my opinion thats a beautiful expression of how man-woman relations function
in a Catholic society. It made me wonder whether these relations can be depicted through prostitution. Im interested
in these kinds of rituals, gestures and interactions, and I took a look at prostitution in light of those angles. Neither
the criminal aspect nor how its currently viewed by society were what interested me. Something becomes interesting when
its taking place, not observation of it. In my opinion whats thought-provoking about a story can be found where
it actually takes place, where the client comes into contact with the girl and the everyday business routine begins.
From the very beginning you present a provocative kind of friction between prostitution and religion/faith or superstition.
Why? Is this why you dedicated your triptych to three cultures that are profoundly influenced by different religions?
Michael Glawogger: Thats absolutely correct. Again and again during shooting I saw how the film works. In this case
I realized that I wanted to make a triptych, which was originally a Catholic altar painting. However, my intention was to
break through this image by saying to myself: If you imagine this altar painting throughout the entire world, it should also
include the major religions. I dont consider that provocative, anybody can be religious. Religion means something different
in every professional group, though maybe not to the individual. In the same way that man-woman relations can be portrayed
through prostitution, in my opinion the most important element in the theme of religion is that it provides a certain standard
for sexuality within a society. These three forms of prostitution reflect this standard in an extremely clear way.
How is someone received when they go to these places with a concentration of prostitution and say that they intend to make
a film? How can a relationship of trust be established?
Michael Glawogger: You can talk about a relationship of trust only after the first obstacle has been overcome. In Bangladesh
at present, this brothel ghettos dominated by a matriarchy with a council of mother superiors. In this case mother
refers to the female pimps. In Faridpur there are about 600 sex workers, and six mother superiors are in charge. Basically,
if you want to film and prostitutions involved, theres no other way than to pay a substantial amount of money.
They asked us, firstly, what will we get out of this? and secondly, how do you intend to do it? Then I had to go before the
council of mother superiors with an interpreter and answer their questions about how I planned to make this film. That was
amusing for them, because they realized what I was going to face in a complex of 600 young women. We finally came to an agreement,
and then the real work started, convincing individuals to participate. We spent months there before successfully establishing
a basic trust that we could work with. The details were hair raising.
How did shooting at the various locations differ?
Michael Glawogger: Everythings much more controlled in Thailand, because its very much a mafia business. There
are clear rules that you have to respect. Youre assigned times for interviews and for shooting, and you stick to them.
The boss only sent me girls who had indicated that they were willing to participate. It was nice doing business
with them because they stuck to everything that had been agreed upon. At the same time, they demanded the same of me. Once
when I wanted one more girl to film, it was out of the question. Mexico was more similar to Bangladesh, though there was one
problem, that the pimps werent present: They controlled the girls by cellphone from thousands of kilometers away. Some
of the girls participated, and there were others I developed a friendship with who had been told not to. Those were bridges
we werent able to cross.
How do you deal with thresholds of intimacy or shame as a filmmaker? Did you set borders for yourself?
Michael Glawogger: They develop naturally. A hooker in Bangladesh doesnt undress for a client, why should she do it
for a film? It definitely isnt a coincidence that the only sex scene is set in Mexico, because its more relaxed
there. Things are relaxed in Thailand too, but the government denies the existence of prostitution. Basically, Thailand has
a much more open culture regarding sexuality than Mexico, because its considered a necessity. But since the Thai king
claims that it doesnt exist, you have to deal with a censor. Those are the borders that are established beforehand.
I dont set any for myself, as long as I stay on topic. Im not afraid of contact with my theme. And when I address
a theme like this, sex is involved. I consider the sole sex scene in the film extremely expressive, because the very moment
the doors closed, the power structure reverses. The woman takes command and sets the rules in a businesslike tone. I
find that much more interesting than the sex itself. Sex, in many forms practiced in prostitution, is erotic only to a certain
With regard to the films visuals the word triptych in the subtitle calls painting to mind. How were these images from
a shadowy area of society captured, in a technical sense? How does one turn from a voyeur to an observer in these intimate
places, and how do you stay on this tightrope?
Michael Glawogger: The first question involves a purely mechanical aspect. We didnt use any lighting. In Faridpur and
Mexico, for example, we added neon lighting where it was already present. That might seem easy, but over an area like that
it can add up to 100 tubes, which might disappear by the next day. We hung a lot of neon tubes, but in the film it looks like
it does in real life.
The second part of the question is easy to answer, too: by looking at the theme calmly, in that you dont keep thinking,
Oh, thats prostitution, I have to be careful. My work on this film wasnt any different than if I had made a film
about laborers, bankers or anyone else. I look wherever I want to. If someone wants to call that voyeurism it wouldnt
bother me. I try to look at things as being normal to the greatest extent possible. The women liked that, after they understood
how I work. They open up when you dont make a big deal about their daily routine or treat it as being in any way unusual.
When a woman in a country like Bangladesh sits on a bed and talks about her profession and penis sizes so explicitly, its
a major accomplishment in so many ways, both cultural and personal. Thats hard to imagine here, where they talk about
things like that all the time on TV. It involves a long process in Bangladesh.
From the very beginning, the music creates an almost meditative mood. How was the film music written? Was producing this nearly
meditative atmosphere important to you?
Michael Glawogger: I wanted to create a mood that reflects what you would have to feel there. When I get there, clock in,
spend an hour and a half putting on makeup, and then sit behind a glass wall for two hours until number 246 says, thats
me, I have to get into a kind of trance state, otherwise Id go crazy. I used two kinds of music in the film: Firstly
I wanted music from the location, and secondly I looked for music that underlines inner moods or more or less delivers a comment
on the action. I began with the idea of using love songs performed by women. Furthermore, thats the kind of music the
girls like to play. Later, after it turned out that clients would appear also, I included duets, but there isnt a single
song thats sung by a man alone. I was always certain that the film must have music, because musics incredibly
important for all the women in this line of work. It might not be what they normally listen to, but theres a mutual
effect between it and them. To return to Thailand, the floating, meditative aspect of the music resembles an inner state more
closely, the kind I imagine they have. That shimmers in a way.
You claimed earlier that making a film about prostitution is no different than making one about banking. Were there still
moving moments during shooting?
Michael Glawogger: Even if things are a little wilder in the places where prostitutions practiced, you have to understand
that what you see is their everyday life. You have to move away from the feeling that its something out of the ordinary
and work on yourself so you sense that. Only then can you understand how the women feel, whats difficult for them, whats
terrible, and whats normal. It would be the same thing if you were shooting at a prison. I wouldnt be able to
get anywhere if I said to myself, Oh, how terrible, being locked up for twenty years. The first thing I have to work with
is the idea, Im locked up here. Thats what I liked about Philip Grönings Die große Stille (Into Great Silence), that the monks first demand was that the director live with them for two months. I couldnt do that, because
Im not a prostitute and could never be one, though I tried to get close to them as well as I could by spending ten,
twelve hours a day there. The surprise about what seems so terrible and abnormal to us blocks everything. I can truly understand
a place only when I understand what everyday life there is like. And everyday life can be completely different at different
places around the world.
Interview: Karin Schiefer