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REVIEW: "The Price Of Sex"

Raunak Khosla |
September 27, 2012 | 5:46 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Poster for The Price of Sex
Poster for The Price of Sex
So many documentaries just throw information and emotion at the viewer, as if through a large magnifying glass of rhetoric. Their function follows form, driven by a need to elicit a stipulated reaction from the audience and a certain level of commercial success.

But ‘The Price of Sex’ is refreshingly free from conventions and limitations. Documentarian Mimi Chakarova comes across as a badass journalist who, among other things, dresses up as a prostitute to get into a brothel in Istanbul’s red light district at the risk of losing her life. She has a unwavering, strong presence throughout the film as you follow her into the underworld of sex trafficking from Bulgaria to Dubai.

Born in a Bulgarian village similar to those shown in the film, Chakarova is not afraid to bring her own perspective to enrich the reality she conveys. In fact, one of the reasons she made this film was that all the documentaries about sex trafficking she had seen had the typical pair of male journalists pretending to be clients hiring a drugged out prostitute and interviewing her in a dark hotel room. ‘The Price of Sex’ comes out as many levels smarter than that – it treats its characters with respect and love. It follows only a few women talking about their escape from forced sex, but it does not leave them mid-sentence – it stays with them, delving in to what they say and walking in their social footsteps. In fact, the scenes that are not with these women are mostly those exploring their statements and histories. Such scenes are told in alternating order, so that whatever the victims say is almost immediately verified and experienced through Chakarova’s investigations.

Another ingenious aspect of the film is that it does not hide or blur out the faces of the victims. This not only allows for greater empathy, but shows the power of the women to take control of their lives even when all hope has been seemingly lost. Chakarova’s film engages the viewer in such subtle ways, and succeeds in achieving her primary goal of fuelling the dialogue regarding sex trafficking.

It’s not perfect, however. Chakarova herself admits feeling bad for not being able to cover the side of ‘demand’ more effectively. The only sex clients she does interview are a pair of corrupt police officers and a pimp, with all faces naturally hidden. But there is no feeling of bias in the movie, no radical feminist spiels. The movie clearly states that the problem of sex trafficking is the result of ignorance from all of us, of the way society has secretly nurtured it.

The concluding scene is perhaps the boldest – as if it compresses everything previously shown in a matter of seconds. It depicts an emotional pause when the interviewee is unable to find words to answer a question. She stops her tears, and quietly bangs her fist on the arm chair and demands, “Ask me the next question!” After all that she has revealed throughout the documentary, this is a shock down to earth. It is humans we are watching on the screen – not actors or objects of passing attention. The screen then goes blank, and the next question is up to the viewer to ask.

Learn more about the film and Chakarova's organisation here.

Reach reporter Raunak Khosla here and follow him on Twitter.



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