In his 2005 documentary, Workingman’s Death, Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger turned his camera on high-risk hard labor: transporting sulfur near an active volcano in Indonesia, stripping ships for scrap metal in Pakistan, etc. How else to expand upon wage-slave extremism via the globe’s most dangerous professions but to rack-focus on the world’s oldest one? There are no lava-spewing natural phenomena or gut-wrenching slaughterhouse sequences in this unofficial companion piece, but you do witness sex tourists in Bangkok choosing numbered “girlfriends” as if they were picking out lobsters in a tank; catch barely pubescent girls fighting over prospective clients in a Bangladeshi brothel; and tour a no-man’s-land in Reynosa, Mexico (“La Zona”), where prostitutes provide quick fucks in grimy motel rooms. By the time the end credits roll, you wonder which is the more harrowing portrait of clock-punching yourself into oblivion. Glawogger might as well have called the film Working Girl’s Death.
This may not be capitalism as conceived by Adam Smith, but it’s certainly how Engels and Marx imagined it, and the longer these women brag, bicker and blithely go about their love-for-sale business (a moaning hooker immediately shuts down once the meter stops running), the more a pervading sense of spiritual suffocation hovers over every transaction. Subtlety may not be Glawogger’s strong point (see: a dog-mounting-dog scene; the use of PJ Harvey’s “Snake”), but his treatise on the female body reduced to a commodity wallops its points across with stunning, sickening effectiveness. A young woman begs to know if “there[’s] another path for us…is there a path at all?” The man behind the camera remains silent. His critique of what brought all those sex workers to their respective place in life suggests an answer, however, and it isn’t glorious in the least.
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