dispatch: sxsw

At Europe’s Oldest Brothel, Everyone Likes Hookers. Don’t You?

Queerty-spondent, Daniel Villarreal, is covering the SXSW Film Festival. Here’s his review of a documentary about Europe’s oldest brothel.

If you think that cruising sites like Manhunt.com are destroying gay culture, imagine the effect of Europe’s oldest, most popular brothel. Pascha, in Cologne, welcomes guests for 5 euros. Some 500 men pay up each day to enter the 11-story venue, choose from over 150 women (1st floor, quickies; 4th floor, Asians; 7th floor, transsexuals; top floor, an orgiastic sun deck with a BBQ pit and a jacuzzi). But for all the high-fiving talk of a brothel might encourage, film director Dominika Daubenbuchel Svante Tidholm doesn’t belive clients leave feeling Like A Pascha (that is, like a king). Rather their sexual high is a short-lived fantasy, and an ultimately dehumanizing experience for both the hooker and hookee.

His film focuses mainly on Sonia, a voluptuous brunette prostitute at Pascha who’s ashamed of her job. She feels that sex work is the only way to save money for an education and eventually a family. Through a series of intimate scenes with her at the zoo, a restaurant, and in front of her laptop, viewers sense Sonia’s deep sadness and stunted emotional growth. She’s like the animals on display, served up as easily as a plate of noodles, and nostalgic for her younger, slimmer self. She was raped seven times before entering the world’s oldest profession. Since then, very little has changed.

Daubenbuchel says he wanted to examine the brothel because he thought it was an odd place outside the normal world. But as he interviews the brothel owners and male patrons who presume that paying for sex is a right, he begins to wonder whether he’s not the odd one out. He thinks the men who come to Pascha aren’t satisfied with a blowjob or an orgasm—they actually long for something deeper. He spends the film examining that, by exploring his own feelings about the brothel.

A telling scene comes when a Pascha manager tells Daubenbuchel not to shoot their descent into the squalid basement. Pascha is a business and behind its dreamworld appearance—where fat old men in masks can gangbang transsexuals, where steak tartar comes in the shape of a titty-fucking, and where you can play slots next to a porn filming—lies issues that none of the patrons or owners want to examine too closely. Even Pascha’s owner won’t say why he couldn’t be a prostitute himself—it’s too personal.

Some of Sonia’s men cry in her arms and some of her customers ask what’s wrong when she doesn’t seem like herself. They’ll never really know. The emotional intimacy they actually crave is too messy and unstable to sustain a good business.

RATING: Four out of five jellicle cats. At only an hour, this beautifully shot documentary with a likable narrator-hero would make an ideal stay-at-home evening followed by cabernet-fueled conversation.