The Pink House aka Questa Casa is a brothel that has been running for 112 years. Situated in the desert town Kalgoorie, 600 kms from Perth, this is the oldest brothel from the Gold Rush era that still remains in operation. Located on Hay Street, you will find this local landmark on the same stretch as the police station.
Now, if you don’t want to go there for pleasure you can take the 75 minute guided tour, or better still watch this documentary. The Pink House has lots of charm and plenty of pink hues to match. Part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival (winning best documentary) and running for a minute longer than the actual tour, documentarian Sascha Ettinger-Epstein – known for her edgier subjects – is alongside producer/writer/director and actress, Claire Haywood.
Maintaining a straight-up business-as-usual atmosphere this documentary centres around a Madam (Carmel) a Prostitute (BJ) and some of the locals who frequent this place. The kitschy Kath & Kim Aussie paraphernalia evoked by Carmel is brilliant; she has been running the show since the ’90s. Carmel is prudish and upholds a nostalgic decency to her pink palace.
BJ is the working girl of the joint, and is in her mid forties. BJ is a great character and a reminder of the demons that often plague sex workers. Her background is beautifully explored and she is very natural on screen. BJ and Carmel’s mentor relationship works best as a contrast. It is often funny and a great point of interest in the documentary.
The story is established and natural. Given the subject matter, The Pink House remains respectful. That is, apart from the occasional quirky music to point out Carmel and BJ’s differences that don’t nessarily need to be there. Ettinger-Epstein manages not to point fingers or undermine this workplace.
The Pink House assumes its viewers are open-minded or perhaps avid VICELAND watchers. In saying that, this reviewer did get excited that this could be about a pink Barbie house, but sadly it is only a front to the isolation of the town and the depression that plagues many. Nevertheless, this documentary remains attractive and appetising.
There are minimal but expected viewpoints from the government and the police, who either turn a blind eye to the illegal sex trafficking going on, or demonstrate common ongoing views on prostitution. Unfortunately this commentary is ridged and opposes the overall warmth displayed by the filmmakers. The Pink House comes from Carmel and BJ’s subjectivity and in a sense it does feel more like a personal journey than a documentary. It reads true to Australian cinema like Wake in Fright or Goldstone whereby the substance is about bringing forth a narrative from characters who accentuate the land, despite racist overtones and hidden nasties. It is through these narratives you get to witness the sometime hostile Aussie larrikin personality. This binary is so primal and at times hard to watch, especially knowing that these people exist.
Natural and dark, funny and troubled, The Pink House shows hidden and exposed truths in the plainest and most colourful way.
The Pink House has screenings from 1st November through the Demand.Film platform. Find further information on screenings here.