It is so rare to come across the portrayal of sex work in cinema in a positive light that when you actually watch a film that attempts to bring it out of its ceaseless commentary on moral corruption and hidden stalls in city bars, you savour it. The German film Bliss (Glück), directed by Henrika Kull, makes way for such an opportunity. It is bold, unafraid of human nudity and pleasure principles, and never for once belittles its protagonists – two sex workers, Maria and Sascha, who are bound in a saga of love and lust.

The story is quite simple. Sascha, played by Katharina Behrens, is a sex worker in a Berlin brothel. She is quite fascinated by and attracted to Maria, played by Adam Hoya, who joins the brothel. Sascha and Maria meet outside the brothel premises, spending more and more time with each other, having passionate sexual encounters, and falling for each other. But Sascha is 42 years old and webbed in a series of complex relationships.

Her easy and confident appearance soon crumbles in the face of societal stigma about homosexuality and sex work, making her vulnerability interfere with her affection for Maria. She doesn’t wish to be in contact with Maria anymore, but once you have fallen in love with someone, is it possible to deny yourself the blissful feeling it brings along? The story, however, fails to look beyond Maria and Sascha. Its understanding of the narrative is so unidirectional that the world around them, in and outside the brothel, seems like camphor. While this helps generate enough curiosity, in the beginning, to keep you glued to the screen, it quickly evaporates your patience in the later half of this 90-minutes-long film.

I was fascinated to find out that Kull has actually shot this film in a real brothel with real-life sex workers. No one seems to be complaining or grudging about their work. The common room where the sex workers gather to relax between their slots with clients finds them casually scrolling through their phones or talking about their previous workplaces. The place is a little dingy, but it is well-lit and run by a friendly administrator lady. In one of the scenes, when Sascha is lined up for a client introduction and turns away as soon as she sees him, she tells the administrator lady that she doesn’t want to attend to the client. She is respectful of her decision and manages to keep the client away from her despite his insistence.

It appears to be a safe house for the workers, a term that we can barely associate with a brothel and sex work from its many infamous depictions in pop culture. Adam Hoya is also a real-life sex worker and performance artist. She has previously starred as the titular lead in a 2019 German documentary, Searching Eva, directed by Pia Hellenthal. The ease with which she graces the screen reminds us of Eva from this documentary, the self-made, independent young woman of the modern 21st century who believes that sex work is a performance and she is a performance artist herself.

Although the film appears to be mostly shot in close-ups, with a sweeping stroke of blurred colors making it appear like an artist’s impressionist canvas (kudos to the cinematographer, Carolina Steinbrecher), the bodies on the screen are unapologetically real. The lovemaking scenes between Hoya and Behrens’ characters are violently passionate but retain a loving tenderness to them. In one scene, when Sascha walks up to the window naked and opens it for the world to see her, Maria tugs her in a blanket before making love to her.

The commentary on ‘seeing’ each other forms a primary aspect of their relationship and the world they inhabit as sex workers. I am more impressed with it because this film basks in the halo of an understanding female directorial and cinematographical gaze. The poem that runs as an undercurrent in this narrative provides a fine touch to the world of perceptions that they inhabit. It also goes on to show how sex work is just like any other profession meted out in exchange for money. Kull makes it appear easy, one of the firsts of its kind for me in contemporary cinema.

The original German title, Glück, as it turns out, refers to a state of extreme, almost fortuitous happiness. I don’t personally believe that the English title, Bliss, can quite capture the same essence of the German word. Henrika Kull, who appears to be interested in the language of silences and small exchanges in this film, trusted her audience to translate this frothy, brimming happiness into words that don’t feel foreign on their tongues – a masterstroke, in my opinion – because it certainly makes you a part of the process of interpreting the idea behind this film.

Also, Read – A Love Song (2022) Review – A Psalm of Life

Bliss (Glück) Trailer

Bliss (Glück) Movie Links – IMDb
Bliss (Glück) Movie Cast – Katharina Behrens, Eva Collé, Nele Kayenberg
Where to watch Bliss

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