Nick Holdsworth on Between the Seas selection PhoeniXXX by Mihai Gavril Dragolea (international premiere).

PhoeniXXX (Mihai Gavril Dragolea, 2017)

Mihai Dragolea's documentary of the lives of two young women working in Romania's online erotic live chat industry is, at 48 minutes, perfectly timed for a one hour TV slot. Billed as an examination of how poor young women seek an escape from poverty, it literally frames the story of Mona and Georgiana with opening shots through the window of an apartment door.

It does not flinch from showing the cost - literally and metaphorically - that the girls pay, the sacrifices they make in order to pursue a lifestyle that earns them significant sums, but exacts a cost in dignity and self-respect.

Sassy and opinionated Georgiana (online name SophieMaria) has spent 3,000 Euros on silicone implants and - by the looks of things - almost as much on exotic tattoos. These include a breastbone yin and yang symbol, a Phoenix-covered thigh and a trite homily in English on her navel: "Winners never quit…quitters never win."

She expresses contempt for the online punters that pay good money to watch her act out their fantasies, labelling them wackos and weirdos who consider her and other cam-girls whores, adding: "You’re not a real man if you pay a woman in order to talk with her… what kind of a man are you if you can't make a girl talk with you?!" But Georgiana never pauses to consider what this makes her, or to contemplate whether her dismissal of the men that provide her with a good living is merely projection, a way of avoiding looking at herself.

Mona, who finished college when she was 22, just a month after giving birth to her daughter Carla (now 7), is more thoughtful and generous to the anonymous men who see her naked and acting out their fantasies on camera. She says she had to overcome initial misgivings when she began the work but, adds quickly that, "when the pay day comes I forget about the way I earned the money."

Dragolea takes his viewers with the girls when they go home to visit their parents in an attempt to deepen the context and explore why these women chose this work. Mona, who grew up on a small farm in a village outside Bucharest, says she was determined to escape the poverty of her home life from an early age. Her parents, good natured and straightforward folk, don't judge her for her decision. Her father reasons that post-Communist collapse has forced many to make decisions that would have earlier been deemed impossible.

"In Ceausescu's time we didn't have any problems. Socialism is a lot better than democracy!" he exclaims.
"It is not so bad," he adds. "In the end all that matters is taking care of your children. It does not matter what you do, as long as it is legal."

Georgiana, brassier and more brazen than Mona, argues with her mother. Her father teases her by asking for beer money and pretending to interview her for TV, holding an electric cable and plug as if it is a microphone. There's not much depth here, but that seems to reflect Georgiana's shallowness.

There is only the most oblique reference to relationships with men. Mona was clearly married for a brief time.t one point her little girl holds aloft a photo and exclaims "there's Daddy!" as the camera briefly hovers over a picture of her with a blurry presence in the background. But nothing more is made of it. The extent to which their working lives have deprived them of any kind of close personal relationships with men is not further examined.

What the future holds for the women is only touched upon by Mona, who muses that at 29 she is near the end of her life as an erotic live chat girl. She has two options: go home and become a farmer or set up her own business in Bucharest.

In the end, PhoeniXXX gives viewers a brief glimpse into the lives and choices of these two young women, but skates over the surface of what their choices truly mean. We see brief discreet glimpses of the work they do. We drop in and swiftly out of their parents' lives. And we learn little or nothing of their inner worlds.

Nick Holdsworth  

Nick Holdsworth is a writer, journalist and filmmaker with 25 years’ experience of covering Russian and Eastern European affairs. He has served as Moscow correspondent for the (London) Sunday Telegraph, the (London) Times Higher Education Supplement and Eastern Europe correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter and also Variety. He has also produced radio programmes for the BBC and television reports for WTN.

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starší články

October 23, 2017

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková