"The Good Woman of Bangkok," which the Baltimore Film Festival is screening tonight at 7 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Art, is certainly one of the stranger enterprises ever committed to film, a "documentary" that turns into a bizarre account of personal obsession.
Dennis O'Rourke, an Australian filmmaker (most famous for "Cannibal Tours") found himself in a post-divorce depression and headed out to Bangkok, Thailand, the sin capital of the world, to lose himself in the pleasures of the flesh.
Instead, he fell in love with a young Thai prostitute and set out to memorialize her life on film. What the movie records best is his unblinking adoration: he just turns the camera on, finding erotic lyricism in the way she yawns or turns her head or demurely covers herself when she sleeps.
Her story is tragic, as must be all prostitutes': abandoned and pregnant, poverty-stricken, desperate to get out of a dead-end village, she drifted into the bar life.
O'Rourke listens intently; occasionally the film cuts away to grainy explorations of the neon gutter that is Patpong, Bangkok's red-light district, and of course what is seen is squalid and infinitely dispiriting, as are all honest renditions of commercial sex. But what emerges most is a melancholy poignancy.
O'Rourke will appear after the movie.