Through the heart of Miami's Little Havana, SW 8th street unfolds--a paved corridor narrowed by a strip of the twenty-odd pay-by-the-hour motels stacked side by side. Fortress-like with their high walls and discrete private entrances, these motels are the ideal locale for a clandestine encounter. Prostitutes, Johns, couples enraptured in illicit affairs, and others with a secret deed to do cloister themselves in the cheap but hopefully clean rooms. These are the myriad subjects of Alison Rose's documentary, Love at the Twilight Motel.
The film is an assemblage of interviews, broken up and edited together to create a tapestry of loosely interwoven characters. Linked by their patronage of the SW 8th Street motels, the characters tell their own stories without voice-over narration or extensive textual interludes dictating meaning. Rose sets each interview in a motel room, enhancing the atmosphere of intimacy. Though the backdrops are simple, the camera work is stylish and sophisticated. Subjects who wish to keep their identities concealed are photographed in pieces -- a mouth, an eye, a nose -- a technique far more visually interesting than the usual blurred or blacked out face. Between interview segments, Rose adds in a few well-observed details -- a gecko climbing a stucco wall, rows of luxury cars parked in the motel's private driveways and a maid sneaking a smoke between bedding changes.
This is not a moralizing film, nor is it a sensational film. Rather, it is a humane film -- exploring its subjects with immense sensitivity and revealing the person beneath the cliché. To name a few: There is Gigi, an aging prostitute whose matter-of-fact demeanor masks her hurt interior. Then Richard, a Cuban immigrant who gleefully boasts of his many seductions but one suspects beneath the bravado lie loneliness and insecurity. Mr. B, addicted to both hookers and heroine, vacillates between justifying his habits and proclaiming his love for his wife. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is Rose (not the filmmaker), the daughter of Haitian immigrants who once dreamed of becoming an pediatric oncologist -- she is beautiful and intelligent but fell in with the wrong crowd and began taking drugs and turning tricks. Though initially they don't seem to have much in common, all share a desire for some sort of connection and purpose. It is this cavernous, indecipherable sense of longing that brings many to the Twilight Motel. For others, it is the hotel that created the longing.
Considering the setting is pay-by-the-hour motels, obviously sex is an important part of the film. For its subjects, emotional and carnal intimacy rarely overlap. Gigi exclaims, "I don't enjoy sex" though she engages in it multiple times a day. Cadillac, a former drug addict and pimp says, "It's like pass the salt." Nevertheless, sex acts as a powerful motivator, luring multitudes to the motel with the promise of mystery, excitement and something else, less easily explained. Many, like Mr. B return to the rooms again and again, like addicts chasing their first high. But with each visit, each transaction the sense of ecstasy is muted.
Though Love at the Twilight Motel does not have national distribution, there are upcoming screenings scheduled in Toronto. For more information visit http://www.gat.ca/?p=261. Also, the DVD is currently available for purchase at the production company's website, http://www.inigofilms.com/.