Carmel Galvin is extremely houseproud. Every morning, she diligently dusts all the fixtures of her abode in anticipation of guests arriving. The fact that her home is a brothel, her fixtures are sex toys and her guests are johns looking for a good time may sound surreal, but it’s all in a day’s work for Carmel in The Pink House, a documentary from Sascha Ettinger-Epstein.
Prostitution is technically illegal in the state of WA, but that hasn’t stopped Madame Carmel’s brothel, Questa Casa, from being an integral part of Kalgoorlie for 100 years.
Working alongside her is BJ, the brothel’s longest serving sex worker. When we first meet the pair, as they potter through their nights patiently waiting for customers, there’s an air of Grey Gardens about the set up. (BJ even appears to be dressed as Little Edie at one point.)
What makes The Pink House so fascinating to watch is that it doesn’t try to sugar-coat their existence with attempts at titillation, instead it revels in the normality of their existence.
The Pink House touches upon the outside influences that are impacting business for Questa Casa, from the internet to sex trafficking, but, like Ettinger-Epstein’s previous film Destination Arnold that followed two indigenous bodybuilders, it’s the relationship between these two women that engages the most.
Carmel’s surprising amount of prudishness brings about a lot of the documentary’s humour, but the heart of the of the piece belongs to BJ, who regularly drops out of employment with Carmel due to a long-standing drug habit. Things become exceedingly darker when she becomes involved in a horrific murder. Throughout it all, Ettinger-Epstein wisely never judges her and when BJ eventually opens up about her family, it pierces through the frivolity.
The Pink House is a celebration not just of stoicism in the face of adversity, but also a portrait of the familial bonds that can form between two strangers in less than average circumstances.
Screening as follows: