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Children in the Global Sex Trade
by Julia O'Connell Davidson
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Trade" (aka, "Willkommen in Amerika," German: Welcome to America?)

When you see a prostitute, whether in real life or in a newspaper, it's probably a normal mainstream reaction to think of immorality. But, if what you're observing are sex slaves, kidnapped, traded and brought into the life by sociopathic gangsters very much against their wills, their religious training and their core moral standards, you might well adjust your condemnation.

This film's purpose is to shine some light into the dark crevices of brutality and greed to expose the cross-border process by which these unfortunates are captured, subdued and imported. Depicted are the workings of a network of Mexican and American criminals that have traded in human lives relatively unnoticed for too long. It's based on the real thing and it's devastating to think that it represents perversity that flourishes in our back yards.

While condemning it, Americans should face the fact that it is Americans who are feeding it just as they keep the drug trade alive and thriving.

It begins with a kidnapping, which director Marco Kreuzpaintner ("Summer Storm") stages from the screenplay by Jose Rivera from a story by Peter Landesman, an investigative journalist for the New York Times Magazine.

It's Mexico City where young con man Jorge (Cesar Ramos in a debut role) and a few partners rob naive tourists by luring them with the promise of sex into a back alley trap. On the other hand, at home, he shows what a good brother he is when he uses some of his ill-gotten gains to buy a beautiful bicycle for Adriana (Paulina Gaitan, "Innocent Voices"), his little sister, on the occasion of her 13th birthday. Mom isn't too pleased because she pretty much knows how he got the money for it, asks him to take it back, and forbids Adriana from using it. Ah, but little girls will be little girls.

The Russian mob is active in the area and one branch of it is in the sex trade, meaning that they're on the constant lookout for fresh meat that they can auction off in America for very big money, $50,000 for one virgin not being unusual. So, when Adriana wakes up early one morning and sneaks out for a little ride on her new bike, she'll live to regret it. She's spotted and kidnapped and, after a quick sale by Vadim Youchenko (Pacha D. Lychnikoff) a hardened predator controlling the area, she's on her way to a life she never knew existed, in which brutality and degradation is part of every hour in every day.

When Jorge learns of Adriana's disappearance he starts a frantic chase which is as determined as it is met with frustration after frustration.

Adriana, now, is "owned" and money changes hands as she's traded off. The worst of what we see now, thankfully, occurs to other girls and Adriana is mostly a stunned observer. She can't help but watch as Veronica (Alicja Bachleda-Curus) an older girl of considerable beauty is viciously attacked by one of her captors bent on abusing her into submission. Veronica turns out to be the only island of understanding Adriana can cling to on their journey.

From the barrios of the city they are herded across the badlands by none-too-bright Manuelo (Marco Perez). Intuiting how far she can go with her mulish torturer, Veronica taunts him for his brutish conduct even while he may bow before a cross in a prayer for salvation. A real standup guy.

He prods his band of captives across the Rio Grande into the arms and truck of their new, American captor and are side-tracked to a sex encampment in a field of sugar cane (?) for use by eager clients. They overnight in a dank room in Juarez before driving by truck to their ultimate destination in New Jersey to be sold to the highest bidder by the king pin of the operation, Laura (Kate Del Castillo).

After spotting the truck and, too late, tracks it to the room in which the girls were held, Jorge watches from a shaded alcove when a gringo appears who seems to be on the same trail he is. Ray (Kevin Kline), a lawman with a badge checks out the room with painful care. Later, when Jorge is discovered in Ray's car trunk after they've crossed to the American side, the two continue Jorge's search together, bonding somewhat only after some macho testing and nationalistic disdain is exhausted.

Possibly inspired by the gripping power of "Maria Full of Grace" that so powerfully followed the fate of a drug mule across the international border with Mexico, this expose' of a different kind of trafficking is less dramatically presented, but more disturbing. Much is left to the imagination, and it's not too much of a leap to realize that the filmmakers are holding back on the depth of cruelty that is inflicted on the victims of these journeys -- a thought that is chilling. We may be thankful to the creative team for not being any more explicit, but it damages the film's dramatic potentials, as does the wild logic that underlies the premise.

The film loses a few more points by casting relative unknowns with little or no acting experience. Perez' shakiness with English dialogue and performance level shows (as does Kreuzpaintner's directorial limitations); and Gaitan, in her third film, is clearly out of her depth. What she has going is a vulnerable modesty which works for the situation on a level of bare essentials.

Kline furnishes as much of a comfort level for the actor he plays against as an able and generous pro can provide, while holding his character's flawed but decent attributes intact. Unfortunately, the role is far too passive to compensate for the weaknesses cited, all the worse for the proposition that he's supposed to be a Texas lawman. Lychnikoff stands out in clear distinction as a specimen of his character's subhuman species.

Exposure of such a sinister trade operating in the moral gutters of global societies may help to break down its safe operation by sticking the reality of its prevalence into the faces of goverment officials worldwide. But however lofty may be the film's intent, it's hard to ignore the flaws in its making. Its moral confusion is the final element of failure, with the protagonist's own criminality contradictions on a par with a captor's hypocrisy, preventing us from committing much of an emotional bond to the story.

As a film it's an awkward docu-drama that may hopefully inspire a few seeds of reform to emerge from the sick soil in which thrives the villainy of its subject.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Alicja Bachleda-Curus and Pacha D. Lychnikoff
Russian slave trader and victim.

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