Reviewed by: Chris

A flyer distributed in support of the film reads: "Imagine you've been bought, sold, emotionally abused and raped." Then, in smaller letters underneath: "Now imagine you're a four-year-old."

Holly is less extreme than its subject matter might suggest, but does manage to shed considerable light on Cambodian / Vietnamese trafficking of children into prostitution. It's a sensitive film, backed by the K11 Project (named after an infamous red light area of Phnom Phen), and aims to raise awareness through a narrative story.

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Patrick is an American dealer of stolen artefacts who is losing money at cards. When his motorbike runs out of fuel, he comes across Holly, a 12-year-old girl who has been sold by her parents and is being abducted into slavery and prostitution. Disgusted but powerless to help her, he offers her friendship. When she suddenly disappears, he starts a journey to track her down, without having thought through how he can help, should he find her.

The film illustrates how girls are threatened with starvation or the kidnap of their siblings if they refuse to co-operate, and ultimately how they learn to solicit quite aggressively to sell themselves. Holly believes her situation is due to bad karma. She is betrayed not only by her parents (whom she forgives - they are near starving themselves), but repeatedly by police who seem little better than criminals with a badge. There is little variation in the film, either in terms of pace or context. We see hardly any of the beauty or wonder of the Far East, as if it is a land inhabited solely by bad people who exploit women; and once we realise that it is a project written and directed by the K11 project, although this encourages confidence in how facts are being presented, it also explains the lack of contrast, dramatic tension or cinematic expertise that could have raised this movie above the 'very worthy' level and got its message across to a wider audience.

When Patrick finally meets a social worker who tries to talk some sense into him, the cold facts are quite chilling. The idea of paying for her freedom simply fuels the demand, she explains: 30,000 children in prostitution in Cambodia - next year it could be 60,000. We share his heartbreak on realising the scale of the problem. "I'm not trying to save 60,000," he tells her, "I'm trying to save one." The idea of whisking her to safety is quickly put to rest: the US will not let him adopt and, although it takes five minutes to 'save' a child, it takes five years to reintegrate her into society. Although a cliche, the idea of saving just one person does have the value that it humanises the mass of suffering individuals by allowing us to focus on a single person in a more three-dimensional way, so we do maybe relate to the thousands through Holly.

Apart from a cameo by Chris Penn (shortly before he died), the acting is anodyne. We see Holly after she has been raped, and are left to conclude her trauma by the presence of a few bruises and a distant expression. Similarly, there is little explanation as to why Patrick, something of a loser, goes to such lengths to befriend and protect a girl he has no connection with (other than portraying Americans as all-good saviours). The performances are adequate however, especially considering Thuy Nguyen (who plays Holly) is only fourteen.

Holly may make you want to put your hand in your pocket to donate money towards organisations providing half way houses for salvaged youngsters, and even campaign to your local politician, but the film's dramatic weaknesses may reduce its chances of being seen by enough people to make a difference.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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An American fence in Vietnam risks everything to help a 12-year-old trafficked slave.

Director: Guy Moshe

Writer: Guy Jacobson, Guy Moshe

Starring: Thuy Nguyen, Ron Livingston, Virginie Ledoyen, Udo Kier, Chris Penn

Year: 2006

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: US, France, Israel, Cambodia


EIFF 2006

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