Sunday, 13 February 2011


This 2007 film from Marco Kreuzpaintner is an awareness raising piece about international sex trafficking. This is recommendation number two, which my girlfriend caught late night on Star Movies when staying in Bangkok. And it is definitely a film that you will want to talk about, for the subject matter and issues raised, if not the film itself.

It takes the form of a fast paced thriller, by turns harrowing, touching and humourous. It kicks off with slick, rapid cuts in a beautifully lit and slightly edgy celebration of all things Mexican. To the upbeat but faintly sinister strains of Malo's Bebe we see aerial shots of Mexico city intercut with various street scenes and people therein, all under the beautiful central American sun. The pace is kept up throughout, the scenery, lighting and compositions are easy on the eye, with the edgy feel maintained with staple use of hand held cameras. The soundtrack keeps the pace, and also the mood; one of the film's saddest points made all the more poignant by Rufus Wainwright's Agnus Dei.

The film follows 17 year old street smart Mexican Jorge (Cesar Ramos), on his mission to find his younger sister Adriana (a fantastic 15 year old Paulina Gaitan) who has been kidnapped by human trafficker Manuelo (Marco Perez). Kidnapped alongside Adriana is Polish wannabe illegal migrant Veronica (Alicja Bachleda). We watch Jorge's race to intercept the traffickers and rescue his sister.

Despite being an American production, it has a wonderfully international feel, with all characters speaking their native tongue, be it English, Spanish, Polish or German. It always niggles me when, as is common in American films, non anglophone characters are indicated by their different accents rather than their languages. I don't know if this is consumer driven or just from patronising American studios that think reading subtitles (or, heaven forbid, learning another language) is too much effort for its audiences, the same attitude which leads to remakes of fantastic 'foreign language' films, recent examples being Let the Right One In and Dragon Tattoo. It is probably naive to think that this is not consumer driven as I'm sure the studios do their research, but surely better marketing of foreign films would still get bums on seats?

Trade is generally quite pointed, it feels slightly like a good humoured lecture aimed at the USA. This tone is set near the start, as a naive American tourist is led into a trap with the promise of Mexican prostitutes. He is then robbed at 'gun point' - guns which subsequently turn out to be water pistols. Is this man a caricature of the target audience? His preconceptions of Mexico - cheap sex and gun toting youths, being abused and ridiculed by Jorge and his gang. The point is pushed home later on, when Kevin Klein's tortured American cop, Ray, challenges Jorge as to whether he has any American friends, to which Jorge retorts "All Mexicans are Americans... so all my friends are Americans. It's North America, Central America and South America. That's America, not just you ignorant gringos up there in gringo land." The character American viewers are meant to identify with is clearly Ray, who later states rhetorically, "We are the fucking gringos aren't we?" and not the tourist, but the way the film unfolds, and the statistics given at the end make the tourist's character ring painfully true. This is obviously a patronising outlook, although the statistics do seem to support the fact that the USA are naively ignoring the issues raised here.

There are many characters, each with their own story, with nicely built, if simple, relationships between them. The bonding between Jorge and Ray, and between Adriana and Veronica. Ray trying to save Adriana to redeem himself for his failure to save his own child. Manuelo's change of heart in the face of Adriana's liberation. One of the darkest moments in the film is only hinted at, when Ray sees some familiarity in the eyes of one female trafficker. Is it possible that Ray's lost daughter who was sold into the trade, had undergone the ultimate corruption and become a trader herself?

In some ways the film is quite simplistic, one boy and a rogue insurance investigator go on a quest against the sex trade. It has its difficult moments, but runs like a standard thriller, and of course the ending is happy for most concerned. It is definitely a film that positions itself as awareness raising. It is about a horrible topic, but intended to be accessible to a large American audience. As such Trade takes on itself quite a lot of responsibility. Not a large proportion of the general public will know that much about human trafficking. As a result this film represents many people's only education on the matter, so it's important it gets it right. Or if it doesn't there needs to be a good reason. The compromises made here on realism are simply to make it watchable. I'm sure a truly real portrayal of such horrors would not get such a large release, and the desired awareness would not be raised.

It ends with some statistics about the sex trade and the American government's failure to adequately address it.  However, it leaves the audience feeling, perhaps, slightly impotent. While it gives some understanding of the situation, Trade made no suggestions about what the general viewer can do to help the situation. But awareness raising is definitely a good thing, and if it inspires one viewer to write to their MP (or senator) or join a campaign or even just donate a small amount of money, then it will have done its job.

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