Girls to Buy (Dziewczyny z Dubaju) Image

The market for films that revolve around the lives of sex workers is ripe for exploitation, but movies like Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers and the landmark Magic Mike franchise prove that the subgenre has in recent years benefited from an added layer of nuance. The former tells a powerful tale of strippers asserting their agency as women while never shying away from the material’s inherent sexiness. The latter offers an uncompromising critique of unfettered capitalism. These bold works have raised the bar for titles such as Girls to Buy (Dziewczyny z Dubaju), directed by Maria Sadowska.

This Polish drama, written by Mitja Okorn, Lucas Coleman, and Peter Pasyk and based on the book Girls from Dubai, follows Emi (Paulina Galazka), a struggling young woman, who, seduced by the earning potential of sex work, abandons her quiet life in Poland and embarks on a cocaine-fueled sex tour of Europe and the UAE. She quickly catches the eye of a wealthy and well-connected benefactor Sam (Giulio Berruti). At this point, Emi and her entourage of beautiful women descend into the dangerous underworld of the foreign sex worker industry. Can Emi manage to stay afloat? Or will it all come crashing down as the reality of her plight begins to sink in?

“…Emi and her entourage of beautiful women descend into the dangerous underworld of the foreign sex worker industry.”

Sadowska never overtly condemns the choices of Emi and her friends. The rap music video aesthetic of the scandalous yacht parties and desert palaces certainly gets the point across that these are the secret domains of the rich and powerful. The slow-motion shots of the women writhing around in revealing clothing feel a little icky after a while. Plus, the director’s adoption of the male gaze perspective feels clumsy in a picture that ultimately serves as a cautionary tale on pursuing wealth at any cost. That’s not to say there’s any place for overly-prude films (especially ones that tackle a subject such as this), but maybe sequences that bring to mind Puff Daddy videos from the 1990s aren’t the best vehicle to promote social awareness of sex trafficking.

Clocking in at nearly 140 minutes, it’s no surprise that Girls to Buy definitely has some pacing issues. But Paulina Galazka’s performance works to keep our attention. Not many actors would relish a role like Emi, but Galazka dives right in and convincingly brings us into the world of a woman who initially embraces her exotic new lifestyle but eventually attempts to distance herself from it. The supporting turns from Katarzyna Sawczuk as Marianna, an impressionable young escort, and Katarzyna Figura as seasoned madame Dorota are also worthy of mention.

Girls to Buy may feel too familiar to those who’ve seen movies in this vein before. The narrative beats are entirely predictable, making one feel the bloated runtime more than if there were only innovative developments in the script. But even if we crave a bit more originality, it can’t be denied that stories like this do bring to mind the plight of millions of young women and children as they are sold (or duped) into sex work. Society is (hopefully) turning a corner regarding the treatment and recognition of voluntary sex work, but no healthy society can continue to tolerate the increase in human trafficking.

Girls to Buy (2022)

Directed: Maria Sadowska

Written: Mitja Okorn, Lucas Coleman, Peter Pasyk

Starring: Paulina Galazka, Katarzyna Figura, Katarzyna Sawczuk, Olga Kalicka, Giulio Berruti, etc.

Movie score: 6.5/10

Girls to Buy Image

"…Galazka's performance works to keep our attention."

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