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"Born Into Brothels"

Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  3/1/05


On the way home from the theater following my viewing of "Born Into Brothels", the recent winner of the Best Feature Documentary Oscar, here's what I have decided:

No matter how interested I am in seeing a film, no matter how much sleep I have gotten, no matter how short the film is, no matter how much food I am chewing on and even if a grown woman says to a child in maybe the most eye-opening moment of the year "You worthless fucking cunt"...I will never see a subtitled film again after 9 PM.

"Born Into Brothels" follows some of the children living in Calcutta's "Red Light District" as they take pictures of their environment while suffering through some of the roughest upbringing money can't buy.  The kids are taking these pictures thanks to Zana Briski, a documentary filmmaker that came to Calcutta to learn more about the famed prostitution taking place there and some of its hardships...but she found the going difficult when literally no one that she came to know wanted to be photographed or filmed about their experience in the ghetto.  So, Briski (and her collaborator, Ross Kauffman) got to know many of the kids of these prostitutes, and whammo, we've got ourselves a documentary film.

As mentioned above, I was struggling to stay awake during this thing, because as depressing as it is imagining how tough it must be on these children to survive and grow up in this environment, "Born Into Brothels" didn't hit me with the raw power that a fictional version of this same reality would have.  As such, the film didn't keep me hooked, leading to my now-fuzzy recollection of what happened in the film's final 30 minutes...sad, really, given that the movie clocks in at only 85 minutes as a whole.

There were powerful moments for me, though, like the profanity-laden tirade unleashed at a small child that makes a minor mistake while doing chores for another woman in the ghetto, or the kids' dialogue about never even dreaming about getting rich one day and not being able to change their future prospects--life on the streets, plain and simple.  Personally, I love these reminders in films; I've got it good, even if I am always bitching about one thing or another.  I can walk ten feet to a place where water is available constantly; I'm well-fed (hey, I'm in hibernation mode); the heating bill is paid.  I'm thankful that I'm not getting beaten, robbed or whored out every day.  My concerns are light compared to the kids in "Born Into Brothels", which makes me respect what they are going through even more.

But, the film regularly goes from profiling one of the kids to showing us some of the pictures the children have taken, and this was effective only when the pictures were quite powerful...otherwise, my snoozing took on a soothing, mellowing effect.  The end game, where Briski sets up a photo gallery in New York for the kids to show off their photo artwork, is cool because you get to see the kids become even a little dreamy...hell, when they visit the beach at one point, it almost feels like Christmas, and then you catch yourself, realizing that for the underprivileged, a field trip like that might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  These scenes are uplifting in their own way, but for me, there just aren't enough pieces like it to lift this movie into real greatness.

I haven't seen all of the other nominees for Best Documentary, but I know that "Super Size Me" just affected me on a different level, not to mention its superior filmmaking.  But, then again, I was essentially asleep for about a third of "Born Into Brothels"...maybe it was better than I think!

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09