PROSTITUTE: The short documentary Rita is the story of an old-school prostitute in Athens at the crossroads of her career.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.
Published date: March 18, 2019

Rita is the story of a prostitute in Athens, a deeply moving story about an individual destiny. With his latest documentary, George Danopoulos is drawing a picture of a woman that goes by the name Rita. It is a heart-rending film with its own poetic beauty in the midst of the squalor.

We never get to know her age, only that she is not young and still not at the end of her career. That makes her think. We never see her face, but she gives the camera a tour of the premises at her work place while she tells her story. «This place is my life,» she narrates. «This is where I grew up, learned … got beaten down by life, gave and took, failed. All in this place.»

On the wall there is a clock with a picture of Marilyn Monroe, and in the background an old tune by Lionel Richie plays.

Few leave the job

You don’t start off with awareness as a prostitute. It’s a rather impulsive decision. It’s only some time down the road that you think about it and realise the choice you’ve made and what it’s cost you. You’ve either got the guts to quit or the guts to continue.

You’ve either got the guts to quit or the guts to continue.

That is the stage of life where Danopoulos has met Rita. Her thoughts and experiences are likely to be similar to many other women in her profession, and still it is all very personal. There is no tangible social indignation, which would have been natural, for her situation is truly degrading. There is no judgement. Only a clear urge to understand and to listen, so it is all up to Rita to present herself.

She is honest. She has always loved parts of the job, mostly the interaction with the customers. And she still does, which is one of the things that keep her going. She finds it touching when a costumer that she hasn’t seen for 15 years comes up to her, gives her a real hug, and asks how her son is doing.

She claims that 95 per cent of the women in this job do it for love and very few leave early.

The routine

Still, it seems like a long goodbye. The viewer gets a feel for how things are changing the longer you stay in the profession. You get stuck in the daily grind; it becomes your routine. You keep going as long as it takes, trying to make a better life, to offer your kid a better future financially speaking.

Rita talks at length about her personal problems. The money she has earned has offered her a life that she wanted. But it comes at a heavy price. She can’t sleep at night. Gets up, smokes, reads … and goes back to bed.

Her thoughts and experiences are likely to be similar to many other women in her profession.

Reading is part of her personal defence system. She started reading at the school library at the age of 15 and plans to go on for the rest of her life. That is her escape. Her earliest literary memory is Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, and today her absolute favourite is Crime and Punishment. Maybe because of Sonia, the novel’s pure-hearted hooker, but she’s not sure about that.

Quoting Camus

The pictures are mostly blurred and held in shades of black and red. Here and there you get a glimpse of the rundown brothel, peeling wall paint and old piping. Rolls of toilet paper and packages of condoms. Vamp jazz music accompanies it all. The voice of Rita keeps talking about the importance of dividing her inner space between work and personal time. For her nothing is better than coming home in the winter, lighting the fireplace, drinking hot cocoa, and reading. That’s where she fades, as she puts it. It is just the book and her, nothing else. Or rather her and the world created by the book.

In order to reach the oasis you have to cross the desert.

At some stage she quotes Camus: «In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.»

Rita never found the summer, but she found God in the midst of her winter. She understands a need to find solace and strength to keep going, and this is part of the insight this sensitive and well-told documentary gives us. A rare glimpse of a woman trying to get the best out of her situation, or – as Rita puts it herself – the knowledge that in order to reach the oasis you have to cross the desert.

Modern Times Review