Wednesday, February 15, 2006


by Ladron de Tebeos

Born into Brothels is a documentary where photojournalist Zana Briski, while doing a story on prostitutes and drug addicts in the red light district of Calcutta, becomes friends with their children, who are fascinated by her camera. She teaches them how to use cameras, and then gives each of them one to use. This part of the film is interesting in that the children shoot and edit the world they know: the crowded, nasty and downright shitty conditions in which all of these people live. The rooms are packed sometimes with three generations worth of family members. There is garbage on the floor. The streets are dirty and the people are obnoxious, often cursing at the children for taking their pictures. Prostitutes stand “in the line” as they call it, waiting for customers. There is a lot of conflict in the red light district and we hear people cursing each other, using a lot of profanity. Briski then decides to try to help these children escape their fate of poverty and abuse.

She tries to obtain a passport for one of the boys so he can attend a photographic conference in Europe and runs headlong into a demoralizing bureaucracy, where people type away on old, worn-out typewriters in front of giant stacks of paperwork. She tries to get several of the kids enrolled in a boarding school, so they can have a chance at a real life, maybe even higher education and a professional career. The trouble is, most schools will not take these students because they are the children of prostitutes. She also runs into resistance from parents, relatives and guardians. The whole project becomes increasingly difficult.

The children themselves are mostly upbeat and often happy despite all of this. At the same time, however, they have the wisdom to realize that their lives are likely to be as unpleasant as their elder family members. Any one of the children's stories could have been the subject of a very good, full-length documentary. But Briski and her co-director Ross Kauffman have decided to take a more all-encompassing approach, with each of the kids getting at least a few moments in the spotlight. The film also gives us a look at the lives of prostitutes in Calcutta. Needless to say, their lives are not like those of prostitutes depicted in Hollywood movies. These are not whores with hearts of gold. They are women who are working hard just to stay alive, and some of them don't make it. The worst part of all is that the children, with no other options available to them, are slowly pulled into a life of prostitution and crime themselves, part of an endless cycle. Some prostitutes want a better life for their children. Others, by their actions or inactions, doom their children to a life of prostitution, drugs and crime. The rest of society as a whole basically doesn't give a rat's ass and ignores them. I found myself really caring about these children and their stories and even took in the special feature “Where are they now” on the DVD copy. All in all, a very fine movie that I would whole-heartedly recommend.

In another feature, I will be psychically reviewing films from the future that have yet to be released. My first review will be The Pink Panther starring Steve Martin. My prediction is that this movie will suck much ass. Also, I predict that Steve, after the realization that he used to actually make great films way back when, (see, The Jerk, All of Me, etc.) will take a long hard look at the spectacular crap fest that he's been foisting upon the world lately (Cheaper by the Dozen Un et Deux) and in a flash of ironic creative comic brilliance, will take his own life, by, yes, jamming an arrow through his own head.

So, to quote Dr. Nick, bye Everybody