An intimate and unflinching look over 12 months at the hardscrabble lives of hustlers in downtown Montreal.
"Men For Sale" is a harrowing look at about a dozen hustlers over a year's time in Montreal as they come into a clinic known as Sero-Zero. It's a place where they can get health checks and information about AIDS prevention. It's also where documentarian Rodrigue Jean set up his cameras for month-by-month interviews. The over two hour running time adds to the nightmarish aspect of the men's existences.
They live in a constant parade of drugs (Crack, mainly), sex, hustling, fights, and dreams that even they know won't come true. One by one, these young men talk about being in a life that seems like a death wish (some of them repeatedly say they want to commit suicide) or a never ending lurch from score to score. There's scenes of deep denial about their lives, like the one man who is the father to a baby that he thinks he could be a good father for, even as he talks about buying more crack. Some of these men think it's a major achievement in detoxing if they stay off the rock for more than 10 hours.
But then it's right back to the viscous cycle. After awhile, the film becomes almost numbing in it's predictability, repetitive nature, and a serious lack of editing. (Did there really need to be shots of the men getting microphones taped on their chests? Or the transitional shots of Montreal in the dark?) The film is also in French, so you're reading subtitles throughout. With the exception of "Willy," whose face is never fully shown, most of these men are inarticulate, which renders the subtitles into something resembling a news-channel's repetitious lower screen ticker bar.
The story never seems to change. It makes "Men For Sale" a depressing portrait of prostitution and drug use. To the movie's credit, there's no glamorization or teary fake redemption scenes, and plenty of close ups of men beaten both mentally and physically. "I'm 23 and I'm losing my teeth," one of the men grouses. They may be "Men For Sale," but ultimately, they give up whatever value they could have and the DVD refuses to flinch at that fact.