The most remarkable thing about Pau Masó’s portrait of a sex trade worker’s descent to willful degradation is that none of the numerous “at work ” scenes with paying clients has an iota of eroticism. Whether licking high heels, cross-dressing while tossing back date-rape libations or being mightily pummelled from behind, the “job of sex” comes through crystal clear. Dig a little deeper and the notion of loneliness trumping desire bubbles up to the top of consciousness.
At one with the self-esteem building, addictively routine vocation of being paid to strip down and bend over is the extended coda of Dave Klotz’s club-smart score. The endless repetition and intended jerkiness of the final collage of lust, despair, self-gratification (seems Aleksandr’s sexual release has to rely on his own hand) and incredible revelation, perfectly underscore the images flashing across the screen.
As writer, director and star, Masó has placed too much of the burden upon himself to deliver the material’s premise with the balance and subtlety it deserves. The oft-used confessional-to-shrink framework serves the arch of the narrative well (particularly Masó’s opening lines), but the film’s first three-quarters would benefit from more show, less tell as the young Russian immigrant (illegal, of course) loses his family and is consequently “forced” into peeling to make ends meet only to discover that bedding his customers after the show is far more lucrative (and darkly satisfying).
With the cup of rationalization soon filled to overflowing (“What choice do I have, since I’m oh so alone and penniless in the Big Apple,” he moans with self-pity), and a Russian accent that borders on caricature, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the hunky hustler who goes to great lengths to push away the two friends (Samantha Golin tries her best as the one-dimensional fag hag, Emma; Kevin Dougherty is more convincing playing daddy Tom) that—somehow—see the goodness that is at the heart of the insatiable whore.
There’s enough to admire to warrant a viewing, but here’s hoping Masó will share the artistic load a little wider in his next project: what could have been was so close to truly marvellous. JWR