The brothel is probably the most debated and polarising place within society. For some it embodies pure evilness; others consider it our genetic, mainly archaic and male dominated heritage.
So it comes as no surprise that we find a similar portrayal of brothels in the movies. The term brothel stems from the visit to such an establishment, yet the payment for sex also happens away from the places, within our communities.
These “houses of pleasure” are portrayed as islands, which the characters must reach. Personal shame often functions as an obstacle, “Irreversible” 2002 or the protagonist arrives at the brothel only by coincidence, as seen in “Ladri di biciclette” 1948, while searching for a thief. The women almost appear to become the bodyguards of the suspect. The brothel becomes a place of refuge.
It is also shown as a shelter for lonely or unsatisfied husbands. In the European cinema of Truffaut a visit to the brothel by the protagonist happens as a matter of course. Both in “Baisers volés” 1968 and in “L’amour en fuite” 1979 they have been discharged from the army and in “Le Domicile Conjugal” 1970 it is the frosty mood of the relationship that motivates the visit.
The American cinema of the early industrialisation period and in times of the American Prohibition portrays a rather baroque image of the brothel, as seen in “The Sting” 1973 and “Once Upon a Time in America” 1984. “Henry and June” 1990 gives a similar perspective of Paris back in the 1930s.
“M*A*S*H” 1970 is a movie about mankind’s rudimentary desires, wishes and hopes and their satisfaction. This tragic comedy shows the medical staff of a mobile army surgical hospital giving in to their temptations in a more than inhospitable environment. Yet there is also a place for a new kind of establishment – a hospital with an integrated brothel.
The brothel has the ability to change a personality. In a movie scene in “Paisà” 1946 it serves as a location for a drunken soldier to meet an old love of his, yet he does not recognise her. When she decides to reveal her identity the following day, her hopes of starting a new life with him are not fulfilled.
The film “Taxi Driver” 1976 exemplifies how hard it is to combine one’s own moral standards with those of others. At first the protagonist is a lost case of society. He wants to kill the presidential candidate, yet finds himself rescuing a 14-year old girl from the entrapment of her pimp. His mission leads to a massacre and the gunman turns hero.