Among the most heinous things one human begin can do to another is trafficking. The selling of people, especially young women and children for use in the sex trade is the nadir of actions. This practice is the topic of the film by Marco Kreuzpaintner, ‘Trade’. It looks at an international crime ring that routinely bought and sold girls barely in their teens for use as sex slaves. When a film is based on such an emotionally charged and despicable topic it is almost impossible to use words such as ‘enjoyment’, ‘entertainment’ or any other word with the slightest positive connotation. This is a well constructed film that achieves what it sets out to do, shock the audience. The shock in this case doesn’t come from some fictious demonic creature or nightmarish monster. The horror instilled by this film is unfortunately all too real. Men like those shown in this work do operate on a daily basis kidnapping women and children to sell in the same fashion as you might offer an old record on E-Bay. The story here was based on the January 24, 2004 New York Times article by Peter Landesman called ‘The Girls Next Door’. The original article did result in some degree of controversy and resulting legal action. Most films that announce ‘based on a true story’ take some dramatic license with the facts. With this in mind you have to consider this film in such a light. While the details have been questioned and some of the events presented as fact are under suspicion this problem does exist and ruins the uncounted lives.
This leaves us with the consideration of the film itself. Unfortunately it has numerous problems. To be fair it is extremely difficult to tackle such a topic and not give the audience a sleazy feeling. This film tries but does not manage to balance the gravity of the subject with compelling cinema. There is awkwardness in maintaining the narrative that results in a loss of some of the impact. The film does show the horrifying details of how the victims are capture, abused into submission and marketed for sale. Perhaps the faults that we find in this work are due to our collective denial that these things happen. Instead of finding fault with the society that turns a blind eye to activity such as this it is easier to blame the film and pick at the technical details. Instead of aiming at the perfection of details Kreuzpaintner appears to be more concerned with getting the story out. The audience is not expected to be wowed by the presentation as much as appalled by the circumstances. Yes this film as faults but they only make the presentation more real and horrifying. We are given a good solid ‘B’ film here that could have been better but still works. It is just difficult to place this film in the usual categories. You cannot help but to be affected emotionally but all too often the script and acting are more on par with a community college project. It is this dichotomy that affects the film more than anything else.
In one of the poorer sections of Mexico City Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) has just turned thirteen. Everybody is enjoying the family celebration until her older brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) surprises Adriana with a new bicycle. While all the friends and neighbors are cheering the beautiful gift their mother is upset. She wants to know where he got the money for such a present. Mom is certain that considering the shady friends Jorge hangs out with the chances that he came by the money honestly are pretty slim. He assures her the job and the money was legitimate that he gives English language tours of the zoo. It turns out that Mom is a better judge of character then Jorge gives her credit for. He actually makes his living by approaching tourists offering to set them up with a young prostitute. He then takes them to a deserted area where his friends rob him. Meanwhile, a young woman from Poland, Weronika (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), lands at the airport along with a friend. They are supposed to meet someone who has promised to bring them to Los Angels so they can model. They are met by the ‘head of the agency’ Vadim Yochenko (Pavel Lychnikoff) and his Mexican assistant but instead of going off to model they are kidnapped; her friend hit by a car and left behind in the process. Although Adriana’s mother has forbidden her from riding her new bike the young girl disobeys and goes out for a ride. She is followed by a black sedan and run off the road. Two men appear from the car and pull her kicking and screaming into it. When Jorge sees a boy riding his sister’s bike he runs him down. The boy explains that he found the bike deserted on the street. The boy takes them to where he found the bike and Jorge notices the birthday card he gave his sister in the street. He goes to the local crime boss and discovers that the Russians have taken his sister. Don Victor laughs at Jorge’s plans to force the Russians to give her back He tells him that by now she is in the ‘tunnel’ being passed from one person to another on her way to the States.
Much of what follows is an extremely graphic depiction of the humiliation and subjugation that Weronica and Adriana are put through. One of the plans is to auction off Adriana’s virginity to the highest bidder in America. Weronica will be forced to work as a prostitute. The Russians beat the girls and threaten their families until they reluctantly comply. OF course they can’t rape or overtly harm Adriana since the bidders will want an untouched virgin for their money. Just having her watch Weronica being brutalized is enough to frighten the girl out of her wits. The intimidation works so well that when they are stopped at the border the girls refuse to tell the authorities the truth afraid that they families will be killed. Nothing really happens to the kidnappers; they are just sent back to Mexico to try again, this time successfully. Jorge has not given up on his quest to get his sister back. There are numerous false leads since this is so prevalent many girls around the same age and description as Adriana in the same predicament. Jorge hides in the trunk of an American’s car. Ray (Kevin Kline) turns out to be a Federal Insurance Fraud Investigator and offers to help.
Although the narrative is often lost in the back and forth movement between Jorge and the girls the story remains very powerful in its impact. The faults are in the methods not the message. Most if filmed with a hand held camera to give a documentary feel to the piece and that does work. There are several scenes that are almost black; nothing can be seen at all. While this may have been done to heighten the suspense it comes off more as annoying. What is truly touching is how Kreuzpaintner manages to humanize the victims. The scenes between Weronica and Adriana are brilliant. Here are two young girls who cannot speak each other’s language yet they bond over their mutual terror. They are sharing something that is unthinkably terrible and that transcends language. This is mirrored by the scenes that focus on Jorge and Ray. The American is pulled into this basically because he is a decent human being appalled by what happened to Jorge’s sister. The cast is mostly unknowns which add to the documentary feel of the film. Klein is an actor of such talent and empathy that he pulls off one of the most difficult roles possible.
The film is presented to DVD by Lion’s Gate. They are getting a reputation for smaller, off beat gems that most people may never have been aware of. This is a movie that may be flawed technically but the emotion impact is incredible. It is a difficult film to watch, especially if you have a daughter. You will never want to let your child out of your sight again.