I'd never even heard of Pascha before filmmaker Svante Tidholm introduced it to me. That's why I was curious if he ever feared his brief documentary on the place would become an unintentional commercial for Germany's highest-profile brothel -- a bright blue, twelve-story pleasure palace in Cologne, Germany that offers dancing, dining, and an orgasm (guaranteed for just 30 euro). Tidholm seemed slightly baffled by my question. He felt like his film wouldn't want to make anyone go there, what with all the footage of laid-back dudes having uninhibited sex with their choice of Pascha's beautiful women. Apparently, what Tidholm thinks his documentary exposes, and what it actually exposes, are very different things.
Tidholm holds the simple belief that all prostitution is bad. He goes to Pascha to uncover some greater truth about the plight of the prostitute and the emotional retardation of the men looking to pay for this kind of fun. This is his mission; movie be damned. The result is Like a Pascha -- a strangely puritanical ad for a whorehouse or a gnashing of teeth disguised as a documentary? By focusing his camera and interviews on one specific business, Tidholm fails to find the story he's trying to tell. it's impossible for him to shoehorn his sexual morality into a place where elderly men across the room from him, surrounded by eager spectators, are gangbanging a transexual.
And what about the plight of the gangbanged sex workers? Tidholm interviews exactly one prostitute to find an answer that lines up (somewhat) with his apparent belief that all prositutes are victims that need saving. There's an extended scene in which Tidholm and Sonia, a rape victim who excuses her job as a way to keep others from getting raped, visit a zoo. Tidholm wants to show Sonia behaving as a person would on a regular day off from work, but of course he can't resist the subtext of the hooker as a kept animal. Sonia has some kind of Pascha key chain or lanyard or something sticking out of her pocket, and as she tries to hide it, Tidholm asks her why . She gives the obvious answer -- that she doesn't want people at the zoo to know she works at Pascha. Tidholm becomes slimier than any of the Pascha patrons he interviews by asking her why a second time -- why wouldn't she want people to know she works for Pascha -- forcing her to embarrass herself while patronizing his desire to appear self-righteous.
At the post-film question and answer session, Tidholm lamented that the men never wanted to go any deeper than "it's just sex" when he was trying to get to the bottom of what he perceived as a deeply buried psychological need to victimize. Tidholm's mistake is believing that there is any deeper psychology at work. For some of these customers, I'd say definitely, yes, but not for the ones interviewed in Like a Pascha. A Pascha manager, Tomas, states plainly, "When you feel your teeth hurt, you go to the dentist. And when you need sex, or just to talk to someone, you come here." Tomas isn't hiding anything in that statement, it's probably true of most of the clientele, and the fact that Tidholm has made the movie he made means he's not listening to his subjects; not letting them form the story. That's a deadly sin for a documentarian.
If he's not listening, then he's not allowing his documentary to document what he's intending. The unintentional effect is that, one, Pascha seems like a pretty crazy place to spend a few euro, and two, that Tidholm becomes a character in his own doc because more is revealed about him than about Pascha. If Tidholm went broad on the subject, and captured more varied footage to support his ideas, then we'd be talking about a completely different movie. Like a Pascha is like someone filming people having fun on a rifle range then telling the audience in voice-over that guns are bad. There's not much to support the images we're seeing.
Besides that, I had to look on wikipedia to find out that Pascha has seen it's share of controversy over the years, including violations of immigration and underage sex laws, as well as making headlines for drug busts, murder, arson, and provoking the Muslim community. If Tidholm wanted to make Pascha look bad, and thus prostitution look bad, then he had the means to do so. Instead, in his ignorance, he films Tomas showing off his drum set in one of Pascha's dingy rooms on its cluttered basement floor. That's not exactly making any kind of argument at all. Tidholm's heart is in the right place. His camera crew is not.
The real story told in Like a Pascha is how a young documentarian can't shoehorn his dogma into a world that he doesn't fully understand. In that way, Like a Pascha is still a very interesting documentary, a happy accident that completely misses the mark on its subject matter and becomes something else entirely. There's probably still a great, insightful doc to be made about the fantasy trap of a place Pascha. Like a Pascha just isn't that movie.