Chile was 22 when she was abducted from Hungary by sex traffickers and brought to Israel to work as a prostitute. That was 20 years ago. She left behind in Hungary her daughter, who was 4 at the time, and her mother, who had Chile when she was just 18. Chile’s father abandoned her mother when she became pregnant.
The hell that Chile suffered from the time she was abducted into prostitution, passing from one brothel to another and later becoming addicted to drugs and living in the street, is sketched very subtly in Sharon Yaish and Yael Shachar’s “Zona Kamoni” (“A Whore Like Me”), but Chile’s supposedly clean and healthy present continues to be chilling. The film was entered in the Israeli Competition of this year’s Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival.
Amid all this, we get to know a woman of extraordinary courage, honesty and integrity, and of great intellect and emotional intelligence. She is aware of the disparity between the image she projects and her brutal life story. In one of the film’s most moving moments, she describes how stunned one of her clients was to discover that she was intelligent and sensitive, not what he expected from a sex worker, the kind of figure he’d always objectified.
Chile hires a private investigator to obtain proof that she was a victim of sex trafficking. She must present proof of this to the Israeli Interior Ministry to obtain a visa and work permit. Chile has to return to her painful past so that she can finally close this chapter of her life, not only for bureaucratic reasons, but mainly so that she can forgive herself. The most powerful aspect of the film is the way in which, at a certain point, Chile takes the reins from the two filmmakers and begins to lead the effort, as she seeks to reveal more and more, to speak even more directly and to film her encounters with former clients. It’s obvious that the directors are trying to protect her, but she knows that if she doesn’t go all out, she won’t be able to achieve the project’s important goal — plunging fully into the abyss of prostitution.
The project succeeds in exemplary fashion. Not just in terms of the content, but cinematically too. This is not a didactic film, but a personal tale in which the rough manner of filming paradoxically contributes to the cleanness and clarity of its presentation of its reality, without falling into melodrama.
The film not only provides an incisive and unflinching illustration of what the life of a prostitute is like, it demonstrates how such a woman is really only at one end of a spectrum on which many, possibly all, women can be found.
This spectrum begins with the inability or impossibility of saying no, with a seemingly small bending to suit another person’s needs, or in a desperate need for love and protection. It’s a universal female experience. Chile is basically just a few steps away from there, not in some distant other world.
Thus the most chilling moments of the film are not the ones in which Chile is in a brothel, but when she is sitting with a supposed friend who brags of having saved her from huger and abuse and talks about her as if she were his pet dog, or when she talks about how she went out on a date and couldn’t understand why she didn’t charge money for it, because the feeling was the same as being with a client.
Yaish and Shachar have made one of the deepest and most important films about prostitution, and about the female experience in general. This film deserves as wide a showing as possible in Israeli society. Men, especially, ought to see it.
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