There is nothing black or white about the sex worker under the spotlight in “Black & White & Sex,” an experimental Aussie drama that reps the helming debut of producer John Winter (“Rabbit Proof Fence”). Filmed on a single set with eight actresses playing Angie, a prostitute being interviewed by a largely unseen documaker, pic offers a full-tilt examination of the sex-for-sale biz that effectively challenges stereotypes and is well served by dashes of droll humor. Scheduled for domestic release later this year, this talkfest faces a tough commercial future. Fest programmers should check it out.
Considering Australia rarely produces movies about the sex industry, it’s a strange coincidence that Julia Leigh’s Cannes competition entry “Sleeping Beauty” and “Black & White & Sex” appeared within a few weeks of each other. Unlike Leigh’s artsy take on an esoteric corner of the trade, Winter’s script zeroes in on an unashamed working girl who’s seen and done it all and is ready to give her filmmaker “client” his money’s worth.
The sole location is a movie studio where the unnamed director (Matthew Holmes) has paid Angie to appear in his docu about sex. With four cameras trained on his subject, he commences inquiries with Angie 1 (Katharine Hicks), a confident Marilyn Monroe type who talks disparagingly about how sex workers are usually portrayed as victims in mainstream movies.
At around the 10-minute mark, this first Angie is replaced via a jump cut to Angie 2 (Anya Beyersdorf). Following a short sequence cutting back and forth between the two actors, Angie 2 assumes sole occupancy of the screen. Employed at each transition point, this device proves highly successful in maintaining narrative momentum while introducing auds to the many potential ages and faces of a single character.
Concept never gets tired due to questions from the filmmaker that represent what many people would probably want to ask a sex worker, given the chance. Despite a couple of flat dialogue stretches, pic holds the attention with extremely frank descriptions of paid sexual encounters and a gradual shift in the power balance as Angie, who has a science degree, throws her own highly provocative questions at the interviewer.
Thesping by the well cast femmes is uniformly excellent. While it seems unfair to single anyone out, Valerie Bader is dynamite as the mature and sassy Angie 3, and Saskia Burmeister (“Hating Alison Ashley”) manipulates her sweet girl-next-door persona to telling effect as her Angie 7 discusses sex and submission.
Outstanding black-and-white HD widescreen imagery by lenser Nicola Daley subtly evokes everything from the high key-light portraiture of film noir to glamour model photography of the 1950s and the stark realism of direct cinema. Rest of the tech package is topnotch.