This film's plot reads like a sexploitation movie, but it's actually a bleak and devastating look at male sexuality. It's many years since I saw it, but I remember the opening sequence in a high-class brothel. Not a glamorous and risque setting this time - a woman cleaner is opening the curtains room by room onto a sunny morning and we see untidy beds as she picks up used condoms from the carpet. In due course a young woman who's lost her job is persuaded by a friend who works in the brothel, to become a sex-worker there. Initially quite keen, she experiences a range of customers and kinds of treatment. This is seen, unconventionally, from the woman's point of view. Meanwhile a misogynist is finding it easy to capture women, and put them in a situation where they "prove" to him that they are lower than animals - filthy, pleading and desperate - and therefore worthy of death. (The Nazis constructed a similar scenario for Jews and others, in which it could be demonstrated that these "non-humans" were indeed vermin who had to be eradicated.) The film climaxes when the parallel stories unexpectedly connect - in the brothel - and what is demonstrated is that male sexual pleasure is not only frequently derived more from power than from sex, but is also frequently based on a profound contempt, and even hatred, of women. The film ends on a note of triumphant liberation, as one of the two female leads shatters the large mirror behind the bar - a cliched image used in innumerable westerns, but given a powerful new meaning here. This is an uncomfortable film, especially for a man. It could change your thinking - it did for me.
Time Out saysHumour, the currency of Dutch director Gorris' first feminist thriller, A Question of Silence, is exchanged in her second for the much darker coinage of horror. A murderer is at large: a well-dressed businessman who incarcerates his victims, chains and starves them, and documents their death amid their filth with instamatic snaps. Meanwhile, in another part of town, a woman joins a brothel. These two simple strands of plot come together within the film, and are united by a single theme: that women's suffering is basic to man's pleasure. A film directed by a duller dog than Gorris would remain just this: a bleak message wagged by a compelling tale. But Gorris' talent as a director is to mobilise ideas to grip an audience, with characters that fill us with compassion and respect and allow us to derive a guilty pleasure from this very special film about the ordinary pain of others.