Friday, 7 March 2014

GFE: Girlfriend Experience (Ileana Pietrobruno 2008): Prostitution and the Blurred Lines of Reality


Daniel Loves his Prostitutes... Bad Idea


This is a familiar story. A story of passion and loss of control. A story of falling before you know you’ve tripped. A story of a damsel-in-distress, and an ordinary hero. Oh wait, no it’s not...
Let me try again: This is the story of a hooker/client relationship made complicated by the impossibility of creating a fantasy to live by.
This film might be best described as a “behind-the-scenes” look at the Pretty Woman fantasy. It is a faux-documentary that attempts an exploration of prostitution from the point-of-view of a john. Rather than asking what drives a woman to sell her body, it asks what drives someone to buy it. The handheld camera and poor lighting allow the cinematography to represent the grittiness of the scenarios, but this documentary style of filmmaking simultaneously portrays the difficulty of losing oneself in a fantasy world. Daniel insists that he is aware of the falsities on which his relationship with Adrian are founded, but the film literally undermines this, constantly reminding the viewer that the lines between reality and fantasy are more difficult to distinguish than he would like to believe. 

“Hobbies are supposed to be fun!” Daniel belts out in frustration as he watches Adrian storm out on him. So when did the client position become so strenuous for Daniel? When did life with Adrian become so real? Who blurred the lines? 

When Daniel’s actual girlfriend admits to him that she has considered role-playing the hooker/john scenario for him to ease this desire to sleep with prostitutes, she also voices a profound revelation. She says, “you wouldn't be turned on, cause even though you say your prostitution world is all make believe and fantasy I think that you like your whores because to you they’re real.” 

What is undoubtedly real is how all-consuming his addiction to his so-called “hobby” is. 

By constructing itself like a documentary the film is able to explore multiple perspectives on the subject. In many scenes of Daniel’s sexual encounters, a split-screen divides the viewers attention between the sex and the reasoning, as a john (whose face will be hidden) discusses what he likes about prostitutes and why. Even though the film is fiction, it delivers some thought-provoking “interviews” and gives a voice to the other side. The trade has always been controversial, and the idea that it victimizes women always present. The men are always the big bad wolves. But from this rare perspective, it is them that seem pathetic. Not to mention defensive, with one going so far as to ask, “I’m paying. So, who’s using who?”

Whatever your position on the matter, I think this film has value. It does not glamorize prostitution, nor does it demonize it or the people involved. Despite its short 82 minute running time, it does manage a good amount of character development. Moreover, because the theme of blurring reality extends past the story through the use of documentary conventions, Pietrobruno maintains a sense of criticism throughout, forcing the viewer to think about what they see and hear. 

It’s an all-around smart film.