August 13, 2023

BROKEN MIRRORS: The Daily Grind of a Brothel

1984 / 110 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

Like everyone else, I watched Barbie during the summer. I also found some of the controversy surrounding the film pretty amusing, particularly a few conservative dim-bulbs offended by themes they perceive as overtly feminist and man-hating. And of course, most of the folks screaming “woke!” are white Republican males.

These same idiots would undoubtedly shit themselves if they ever watched a film by Marleen Gorris. That’ll obviously never happen, though, since it would require reading subtitles.

I’m relatively new to Gorris’ work, having reviewed A Question of Silence earlier this year (an excellent-but-incendiary film, to be sure). But after seeing Broken Mirrors, I don’t believe Gorris is anti-male per se…she simply advocates equity. Granted, both films stem from a feminist viewpoint, but I think they’re a condemnation of a social structure that fosters (consciously or unconsciously) a culture of male privilege. Sure, I could be wrong, but that doesn’t mean her themes are without merit. 

A majority of Broken Mirror takes place in an Amsterdam brothel, so naturally, every male character, from the customers to its greedy owner, benefits from the exploitation and marginalization of women. These segments are presented from the sex workers’ point of view, particularly young mom Diane (Lineke Rijxman), forced to work there because her heroin-addicted husband is worthless, and Dora (Henriette Tol), who’s more experienced and cynical.

"I heard you had donuts. I don't see any."
The daily grind of each work shift, intentionally unerotic sex scenes and the entitled, sometimes hostile behavior of the clientele paint an appropriately bleak picture. Not only do we sympathize with these girls, we share their general perception of the customers (and their indifferent boss) as bad people. Gorris understands that an attempt to humanize any male character willing to pay for sex, no matter how outwardly kind, would ring completely false.

More disturbing is a subplot involving a serial killer who abducts women, then imprisons and starves them to death before dumping the bodies into a river. We never see his face until the end, but he takes pictures of his victims at various stages and gets off on their pleas to be released. In fact, he’s outraged when his latest victim refuses to beg for her life. Seemingly unrelated to events in the brothel, both storylines do converge at the climax (which is actually pretty gratifying...even somewhat optimistic).

A bit more heavy-handed with its themes than A Question of Silence, Broken Mirrors nevertheless remains conceptually relevant despite being nearly 40 years old. Marleen Gorris displays a lot of empathy for her characters, who are given considerable heft by terrific performances. It isn’t always an easy watch, but a film like this probably shouldn’t be. If the powers-that-be behind Barbie decide to go dark-and-gritty with the sequel, perhaps they should tap Gorris’ services. That would really chap some asses.


INTERVIEW WITH U.S. SEX WORKER MARGO ST. JAMES - In a vintage interview filmed for Dutch TV, St. James advocates for unionizing sex workers.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Peter Verstraten.


TRAILERS - For Broken Mirrors and other Cult Epics releases.

No comments: