Rated: R for graphic language, violence, descriptions of violence, and some sexual themes.
Genre: Documentary
Directed By: Ross Kauffman, Zana Briski
Running Time: 1:25
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 9/19/05
DVD Features:
Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary
Commentary - Ross Kauffman, Zana Briski - Filmmaker's
Featurette - 1. Update Reel On The Children
2. Academy Award Acceptance Speech
Trailer - 1. Theatrical Trailer
2. Trailer Gallery
Text/Photo Galleries:
Photo Gallery


"Born in to Brothels" is a film that is constantly changing form. It's a portrait of misery, a portrait of utter squalor, and a portrait of utter hopelessness, and then with the help of Zana Briski, a portrait of hope. Briski gets an inside view of the group of children living within the ghettos and brothels forced in to an inevitable life of prostitution, tragedy, and misery. But, instead of occasionally visiting, she instead, lives with them in the trenches, and through her own career helps these children relieve these aggressions. Though, therapy is obviously not an option in such a place of misery, the red light district of Calcutta where the chance of succeeding is slim, Zana uses her methods of photography and conveys them on
to the group of children she becomes involved in.

Through artistic expression do these kids find therapy and a way to express their utter sadness and pain, and in the process she discovers some hidden talent within them. The film starts off with a portrait of the utter misery of the Calcutta ghettos with factual information as to how many of the girls living there will be forced in to a life of prostitution and inevitable death, but Briski's venture is less an attempt to discover what life in the red light district is and more of a way to bring a little bit of hope in to these children's lives while finding a way to get them out of there. Whether or not either crusade is successful I obviously won't tell you, but the film really does take on a brighter light as it goes on.

We also get a chance to hear from these children whom are not only very wise beyond their years, but seem to accept torture as a way of life. In one interview a girl from the group explains that when she went to take a picture of a villager, and was beated, but she explains it with an amused laugh. Disturbing, or just second nature is left up to the viewer, but much of it is shocking without ever going for such an effect. Briski takes the chance and gives each child hand held cameras and as they live their life, take pictures from random candid instances which make for some beautiful scenes, and watching them have fun while doing so makes this more entertaining. The documentary as a whole is heartbreaking from beginning to end because every single living person in Calcutta are utterly miserable but attempt to find some small glimmer of happiness within the pain and suffering. Some of the children profiled here are not all that miserable because they accept it.

When you accept misery, it's not as painful as others conceive it to be, but the fact that these children who haven't even reached the stage of adolescence accept their pain makes the film all the more heartbreaking. They live in boxed in rooms, are insulted and beaten, and can hardly ever find happiness in even the smallest things. In the end, we're shown a very bittersweet message, because while its hopeful, it also shows that the hope is rare within the depths of these brothels teeming with disease and devastation, but we can also find some sense of beauty as the children gain a sense of happiness and hope within Briski's teaching methods. She not only becomes a teacher to them, but a mentor and guardian angel as most of the second half of the film is focused on her attempts to find a way out for the children. In the end, I was saddened and devastated by this, but I liked it a lot.

This is a beautiful and very wrenching declaration that even in the most horrible of situations, art can help relieve some of the pain and misery, and through the right guidance, can make life seem slightly less miserable, and Briski does so by helping these children.



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