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SXSW 2012 Review: SCARLET ROAD

Joshua Brunsting

by:
March 12th, 2012

Sex is one hell of an odd concept with regards to the general population’s perception of it. Both the most sellable aspect of media, and also the one aspect that garners the most condemnation if confronted head on, sex and human sexuality is both titillating and damning.  However, in most instances, it has the power to truly change lives, or that is what the film ‘Scarlet Street,’ currently showing at SXSW, would have you think.

This Australian documentary follows the story of Rachel Wotton, a sex worker who is looking to not only give her clients, people with disabilities, but also wants to give these people their deserved sense of sexual freedom through various outlets, be it hands on or through charities, etc. Directed by Catherine Scott, the film clocks in at a breezy 70 minutes long, but may be some of the more touching moments that the indie documentary world has to offer so far this year.

The film itself doesn’t break much ground.  Structurally, it’s your standard non-fiction piece of filmmaking.  The narrative doesn’t try to change the world, but what it does do is gives us a massively touching look into sex and the human experience involving it. Following the story of Wotton as she tries to not only get a non-profit brothel off the ground, but in the meantime continue her business of giving erotic experiences to the physically/mentally handicapped, the screen is absolutely set ablaze when Wotton is on screen.  She’s a presence that is as charismatic as she is beauty, and proves that, and this is the film’s primary thesis, sex has all the ability in the world to change a person’s life for the better, no matter who you are.

While most people have a tough time tackling the subject of sex, as a concept, Wotton couldn’t have more fun chatting about it.  A charming woman, Wotton is truly passionate not only about her clients, but about the idea of seeing these handicapped human beings becoming sexual objects, having their most intimate desires met.  Often times, this doesn’t even actually involve anything remotely sexual, be it just a massage, or finally being able to have a woman stay in their bed over night, waking up to the warm touch of the opposite sex.  It’s this sense of child-like intimacy that really bleeds its way into the aesthetic of the overall feature, making it a farm more charming and truly entertaining than a documentary like this has any right to be.

However, it’s not going to change the game.  Visually, the film is lackluster at best.  Shot as if it were a documentary ripped straight off of television, the film has a stripped down visual style, that when the flourishes come in, they really add a lot to the film.  The moments of true intimacy, I’m thinking of a shower sequence near the conclusion of the piece, really seem to pop when they come around, as director Scott focuses ever so lovingly on these beats.  While it’s not the most visually enticing documentary you’ll find this year, Scott has a bloody assured hand, and she knows that her film thrives when Wotton, a woman who oozes both charm and charisma, thusly she focuses squarely on her and her relationship to her clientele.

Overall, ‘Scarlet Road’ is a documentary that will not change the way a person views sexuality, but will hopefully entice those with a prudish outlook on the concept to see that it has the true power to change lives for the best.  When so much of the modern human identity is formed by ones sexuality and sexual preferences, Wotten and ‘Road’ are trying to help those in need express themselves how they see fit.  And it’s one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see.

Grade: B

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