“Soft boys by day, kings by night” goes this film’s misleading tagline. There’s nothing faux-sensitive about the daytime conversations of the titular ‘brothers’, and nothing remotely regal about their nocturnal activities.
This is an intelligently made documentary about a group of young Bulgarian Roma (gypsy) men, all of whom moved to Vienna looking for work – mostly to support their families – but have ended up as prostitutes. They’re referred to only by their given names (Stefan, Yonko, Nikolay etc.). The content segues seamlessly between interviews and subtly stylised re-enactments. The former take place as they sit around drinking, smoking and playing pool. There are graphic descriptions of what their (male) customers have wanted, and of the occasional frightening incident. Everything is related matter-of-factly and with no self-pity – just an element of bitter irony.
That said, candour seems to coexist here with an element of self-delusion. There’s a lot of talk about moving on, finding a normal job, “buying” a wife and the like. On the other hand, the recurring discussions about maximising income in the short term – how much the johns pay for various services, how to make the most Euros in one night – get tedious, however understandable they might be. Still, the ‘brothers’ are basically an affable bunch, and their camaraderie is touching.
In its own terms, Brothers Of The Night succeeds well enough. It’s sad, but mercifully free of overt moralising, which makes the occasional stark statement – “I don’t know what my life is good for”, “Everyone is dead to me… – all the more affecting. And, without giving the slightest sense of a sentimental cop-out, the relatively happy closing scene in a bar rounds it off very well.