For many women, motherhood is a new and enriching phase to one’s life. Becoming a parent, investing in another as much as you to yourself, is to be celebrated.
That’s not the case for the women at the center of The Vice of Hope, a swirling, powerful film examining prostitutes living by the Volturno river who sell their babies for profit. For these women, motherhood isn’t a gift. It’s often a reoccurring curse, a walking nightmare filled to the brim every nine months. Director Edoardo De Angelis never shuns these women. Instead, he brings their few options to the forefront to allow us to emotionally understand a grave and dark world that seems entirely different from our own.
These women are led by Maria (Pina Turco), a girl who was raped and left for dead when she was just a child. Now grown, she’s the lieutenant of a madame who owns the women as sex slaves. Their job is to make money from their bodies and make secondary income by acting as surrogates. They carry a child, then when it is born, they’re given money for selling it to a rich family.
De Angelis is immaculate in his rendering of this horrid situation. He glides through their world, often employing long tracking shots. De Angelis plays out their life and allows us to explore it, as we peak around corners, rooms, see the homeless, and take in their environment. The immersiveness of the camera work, often searches for a moment or a time to settle. When De Angelis finds the time to do a stationary shot, it’s to punctuate the scene. The effect is an elaborate probe to find a bullet through the exit wound until you reach the heart.
Nevertheless, Maria’s world is turned upside down. She goes from unflinching lieutenant to sympathetic confidant to the girls’ plight and fate. She does so because she becomes pregnant, once considered an impossibility because of her previous rape. She must then decide whether to have an abortion or keep the child, which would possibly lead to her death during childbirth.
The script puts Maria in the same unwinnable situation many of the girls face: whether it is nobler to give a child up or keep it. The question isn’t an easy one to answer in a poverty stricken area, with little sources of income. Keeping a child, what should be a marker of humanity, is a luxury here. De Angelis is keenly aware of this luxury and lets us know how tenuous and precious it is.
So precious is this luxury, that even hope is a rationed good. Because the birth of a child and hope should go hand-in-hand. To accept a child is to accept hope, it’s to believe that there is a better life that’s possible. That idea is dangerous in Maria’s world, more precarious than a drug habit or death, it’s a vice that gripes you to live or die trying. The Vice of Hope is a plea for humanity.