Let's face it! Gay cinema is obsessed with male prostitutes. A young guy in a new city drafted into the dark and seedy world of hustling is a popular trope in gay film. However, "Aleksandr's Price" offers a different take on an old story. Director, writer and star Pau Masó gets to the deeper emotions of shame, addiction and loneliness of a person in this situation. Does it take a heterosexual man to get to the heart of a hackneyed premise?
Aleksandr (Pau Masó) is an illegal Russian immigrant. Through sessions with his therapist (Anatoli Grek), the audience learns about his slow descent into nightlife. His only friend Emma (Samantha Glovin), gets him a job go-go dancing and he slowly gets sucked, sometimes literally, into a world of sex, money and power. The film ends with an M. Night Shyamalan-style twist, but bear in mind that's meant in the pejorative.
Masó is a gifted actor. He captures the naïveté and desperation of a young illegal in an oppressive city like New York. He captures the nuances of sex addiction, how it can be degrading and shame-inducing but also powerful and intoxicating. As a director, he is able to create sex scenes that convey more than wanking material. Perhaps, not having the gay male gaze, he is able to use the sex scenes to achieve their emotional end.
The shortcomings of the film are despite Masó's gifted acting and directing skills, the script of the film is wrought with clichés. It's all been done before. Luckily, he can at least squeeze some emotion out of it. Also, given their complete lack of charm and finesse, Glovin and Grek's characters get a lot of screen-time. The poorly-acted female roles only add to the gay hustler movie cliché.
Included on the DVD, is an interview with Pau Masó. During the interview, he shares information about the making of the film including some deleted scenes. The most shocking piece of information is his belief that he's tackling new territory. He believes there aren't many Hollywood films about prostitution yet every third gay film is about an escort. Also, he says he chose a male prostitute sleeping with men since it was more depraved because Aleksandr is ultimately straight, which coincidentally is never thoroughly explored in the film. Given the tide of Russian homophobia, the film would have the opportunity to open up a discourse on Russian homosexuality.
The question arises, is it offensive if Masó uses a male escort and gay men as tools to tell a story if he does end up making a decent film? Is that more or less offensive than using sex to sell movies?
Ultimately, "Aleksandr's Price" is a pretty good film. It tugs on heartstrings and makes you think. It explores somewhat taboo subject matter with reverence and thoughtfulness. It has some great, and not so great acting performances. Maybe it's a step in the right direction to have a gay film made by a straight man so that eventually we're just making films. Hell, there are worse films in the gay canon.