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And secondly, the tight-knit, quasi familial bonds between the women which serve as their main protection from the gruelling realities of the toughest lives imaginable. Goded lets the prostitutes have voices and hopes for the future, things which are routinely denied them by a culture which punishes women for victimhood.
Director Maya Goded tempers the bleak moments — and there are plenty of these as the women recount the horrors that led them to the streets — with hope, humour and love. A healthy festival life, following on from its premiere in the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition, seems assured. With its intimacy and extraordinary access, this is the kind of film which could only be made with a level of trust that a filmmaker has to earn over time.
And Goded has certainly put in the time. She has been exploring La Merced and photographing the working women there on and off for twenty-three years. Both look at female sexuality and strength on the very margins of society. For her film, Goded follows five key characters aged between fifty and eighty. Lety dismissively juggles a octogenarian sugar daddy with her main priority — supporting her daughter through her cancer treatments.
And Raquel, the oldest and most vulnerable of the women, yearns for a lover who will share her life and not just her bed. With so much uncertainty woven into their day-to-day lives, the women have built themselves a protective armour of ritual and superstition. Tarot readers and faith healers guide their future, and perhaps more crucially, help them come to terms with the past.