Genre: Drama
Director: Maria Sadowska
Cast: Paulina Gałązka, Katarzyna Figura, Katarzyna Sawczuk, Olga Kalicka, Giulio Berruti, Józef Pawłowski, Andrea Preti, Iacopo Ricciotti, Luca Molinarir
Runtime: 2 hr 23 mins
Rating: R21 (Sexual Content and Mature Theme)
Released By: Encore Films
Official Website: 

Opening Day:
 18 August 2022

Synopsis: Emi is a young ambitious girl who has been dreaming about a big world for years. Whenever an opportunity arises, she jumps into its modes without hesitation, becoming an exclusive escort. Soon it is she who, at the invitation of Arab sheikhs, begins to recruit Polish misses, celebrities, screen stars and models. However, this inaccessible, luxurious world will soon show its dark side.

Movie Review:

You’d wonder with a title like ‘Girls to Buy’ what sort of audience this Polish drama was hoping to attract; ditto its provocative poster, which suggests a softcore erotic thriller that you would find in the past screening at the old Yangtze cinema.

In more ways than one, those suspicions are not unfounded, especially as (female) director Maria Sadowska frequently employs the male gaze to capture the girls in her movie in various seductive poses or dressings. Yet as the voiceover narration reminds us from time to time, there is a deeper story and moral at the heart of the movie.

Told through the eyes of a struggling young woman named Emi (Paulina Galazka), it chronicles her rise and fall as she gets into the escort business, seizes an opportunity to become manager of her own troupe of female escorts, and then as she finds success encounters the dark and dangerous nature of the business.

Clocking in at close to two and a half hours, the film spans close to a decade of Emi’s life, beginning in the year 2000 somewhere near Szczecin with Emi yearning to escape the humble life that she has with her mother (Aleksandra Justa). Emi’s journey begins when she sneaks off to participate in a beauty pageant and meets the mother-daughter pair of Dorota (Katarzyna Figura) and Marianna (Katarzyna Sawczuk), who entice her to join their social escort enterprise with the promise of riches. From high-powered executives to politicians to footballers to gangsters, Emi’s clientele reveals just how much those with money will pay to satisfy their sexual desires.

On a trip to Monte Carlo five years after hitting it off (no pun intended) as an escort, Emi is fascinated by the suave agent Sam (Giulio Berruti), who engages social escorts to entertain guests on his luxurious yacht out at sea. After impressing him over a game of blackjack, Sam offers Emi a job to recruit 10 girls for a party with three Arab sheikhs at Courchevel; among the girls Emi lures for the job is the ingenuous Kamila (Olga Kalicka), whose life will be irrevocably scarred by the time she follows Emi to the next job Sam offers in Cannes.

In between Courchevel and Cannes, things get more complicated for Emi when she falls in love with Bartek (Józef Pawlowski), an earnest bloke from a well-to-do family who goes heads over heels for Emi. Not only will she have to try to keep up a façade when Bartek pops over to Cannes to surprise her, Emi will also have to deal with the anxieties of her new recruits, the misfortune of a hotel burglary and the manipulations of Sam and his Arab clients. It doesn’t end there, but what happens in Cannes will set the stage for Emi’s subsequent unravelling in Dubai.

Given the amount of ground it covers, it is somewhat inevitable that the narrative loses steam along the way. As consequential as Emi’s episode in Cannes is, Sadowska cannot keep up the momentum of the first act, so what should be a tense turning point for Emi and the film turns out oddly unfocused and uninvolving. Only during the last half hour does the movie regain its footing, finding its calling before it ends as a cautionary tale about a temptingly glamorous life that has its sinister side.

That it fails to be as compelling as it ought to be is by no fault of its actresses, who while will come across largely unknown to the audience here, will leave an impression for their daring and dedicated performances; instead, the fault lies with Sadowska and her trio of writers, who seem perfectly comfortable pandering to the baser instincts of the male members of their audience for a good part of the movie, before deciding to espouse a moral view on the issue of the international prostitution industry that has ensnared a good number of Eastern European young women.

To be sure, ‘Girls to Buy’ never once descend to the depths of a softcore erotic thriller, even as some sections veer quite closely to it. Yet that alone is not sufficient to elevate it to a morality tale, even as that may be the intention at the end of it all. Indeed, the pleasures here are ultimately superficial, which if you go by its title and poster, is just as well what those curious about this Yangtze-type title will be expecting..

Movie Rating:

(Not compelling enough as a morality tale or as a character-driven portrait of a sex worker, 'Girls to Buy' offers a polished but superficial look at a world that is temptingly glamorous but ultimately sinister)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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