Regissør: Mihai Gavril Dragolea

This well-made film about two women in the cybersex industry is neither the well-known story of the exploitation of Eastern European women, nor the soft porn disguised as a documentary.


In post-communist Romania, cybersex is a growing economy. Phoenixxx is a well-made documentary from Bucharest that tells the story of Mona and Georgiana – two friends in their late twenties working as "live chat girls". Despite the theme, Dragolea concentrates on the everyday life of the two main characters in a decent way outside of work.

Apparently filmed by a one-person crew, is Phoenixxx deliberately distorted in both texture and visual aesthetics. This is further enhanced by the fact that the sky is cloudy and the interiors are modest in large parts of the film. This coarse grain dresses both the material and the protagonists' honesty and lack of pretensions.

The women's distinctive work becomes subordinate to the poignant portrait of their daily routines, family dynamics, and future plans. 

Different approach. The film is neither the well-known story of sexual exploitation of Eastern European women nor soft porn camouflaged as a documentary, as much of what has come lately. Instead, the director gives us a more profound portrayal of the main characters and their families. As the film moves forward, Mona and Georgiana's distinctive work becomes subordinate to the poignant portrait of their daily routines, family dynamics and future plans. Nevertheless, it is the women's work that causes them and their families the greatest discomfort, and this of course remains central to the narrative, if not the character portrayals.

The result is that the film succeeds in illuminating the lives of those trapped in the global supremacy of the big city. Both Mona and Georgiana come from peasant families, but understandably hesitate and doubt their own opportunities to survive and succeed if they remain within the agricultural industry their parents' lives are based on.

Family Perspectives. Part of the strength of the film is the portrayal of supporting characters. This not only helps to drive the story of the main characters forward, but also provides greater insight into the socio-economic realities of today's Romania. In a scene in the middle of the film, Mona's father complains about the fall of socialism, and claims that it would have provided a better standard of living and more job opportunities than the current "democratic" system. It is an assessment based on desperation and frustration as well as an expression of parental care that is easily recognizable to a larger audience.

We get to observe and think about today's Romanian society and the lack of opportunities for these competent young women. 

Involving the parents of both main characters in the film is crucial for the overall embodiment of the women's life situation. The fact that both parents are aware of their daughters' activities and yet do not judge them shows an admirable family unity. Even if the parents accept the daughters' choice of profession, they are by no means comfortable with it – the acceptance testifies that they care about the daughters and react in a mature way. Even more important is that this acceptance challenges the viewer's prejudices with regard to women's job choices. Instead, it becomes a catalyst for the public to observe and think about today's Romanian society and the lack of opportunities for competent young people. Both main characters are intelligent and eloquent (Mona has a university degree), and the lack of choice is strongly emphasized in the film.

Of particular importance to the film is Mona's young daughter Carla and the relationship between mother and daughter. While Mona sometimes struggles to reconcile the roles of mother and cybersex worker, she is extremely conscious of making sure her daughter has choices in the future. In this way, Mona becomes a heroic figure – even when the six-year-old daughter sometimes rebels against her mother having to be away to work. At times, it seems like Mona relies on a fragile mix of private nannies and friends to take care of her daughter; but this is rather a strong remark of the deficient welfare system in present-day Romania than a critique of Mona's parenthood.

All in all, the film is a positive tale of survival.

Invites empathy. Phoenixxx is made by a male director, but still avoids ending up portraying a type of masculine sexuality. When we see women at work, it is in fact the deviant nature of the chat job that is highlighted in contrast to their own well-defined and sensible personalities. When they talk about what customers have asked them to do, their frustration becomes clear – yet they never lose dignity and acumen when they rationalize their own situation.

The relationship between the filmmaker and the main characters is obviously robust and full of intimacy and trust, and this contributes to a viewing experience that stimulates an empathetic attitude to what Mona and Georgiana have to contend with.

All in all, the film is a tale of survival, and despite the demanding circumstances of women's lives, the ending is filled with cautious optimism on behalf of both them and their future.

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