Holly is a superb film that really takes you to look right inside the heart of child slavery, at the children themselves.
Holly is a Vietnamese girl who is sold by her family to the Cambodian sex industry where she is taken to a brothel and lined up to be sold as an underage virgin, a rare prize.
This is the story of how an American who has ignored this industry for so long by looking away, and one day he looks into the eyes of this girl and sees just that, a little girl.
We're taken along their journey, following Holly as she tries to escape this world firstly on her own and then with Patrick, played by Ron Livingston. We also discover what it's like from the outsiders view, both that of Patrick who loathes it and Klaus, played by Udo Keir, who consumes it.
It makes you look at the act of child sex slavery in a very personal way instead of the often detached big picture view. This viewpoint usually presents a very impassionate and impersonal story, so here it's very refreshing and eye opening to see it from the two viewpoints of the girl and American, and for the film to remain focussed in this way.
Interestingly it gets through the automatic (I would hope) revulsion at this topic and brings you right into the people's lives. Far from being caught up in the ethics and the morals, you are emotionally pulled into these stories. This is something I've never seen before when other films have tackled this subject, I can't stress how effectively this is done. Even during some of the most harrowing moments of the film, when Holly is raped for the first time, or when you see feelings appear between Patrick and Holly.
These moments are so incredibly well handled and so powerful. For example we don't see the rape scene at all, just Holly's reaction when the man leaves, shown in close ups and lingering shots.
With the scene between Patrick and Holly, the shot of the two lying in bed and facing each other is drawn out past the uncomfortable, and rather than be horrified by the moment the feeling of dread rises, you're willing it not to happen but on some level seeing how it could. It doesn't seem so beyond your understanding at this point.
All this is a testament to the sympathetic screenwriting and careful direction, neither takes it too far towards that disgusting feeling and by keeping that intense personal focus they keep it very sensitive.
As for performances Keir is superb in his role as a customer of this terrible industry, and it's great to see such an inspired casting choice, although I mean nothing against his personal character, it's his acting ability.
Ron Livingston is very strong too, as is the imposing figure of Chris Penn. However the real film stealer is the girl Thuy Nguyen and how great she is during some incredibly difficult scenes, not just for her to act, but for us to watch as well. She provides a touching and incredibly moving performance.
The entire film portrays the industry without accusing, pointing fingers, preaching, disgust, revulsion or the typical western preconceptions. Neither does it try to say any of this is okay, and in fact the opposite happens, without the hand holding and lecturing.
There are some excellent moments of tension which are very well built. One of the best examples of this is the minefield scene where Holly runs straight into the middle of the field without realising the where she is.
For all those great moments there are equally those dark, ugly and depressing scenes, and that is something that couldn't be avoided with such a controversial topic. Again they're handled wonderfully and is a testament to the directing and writing.
Overall an excellent film that really does deserve your attention, if not just for the appreciation of the film but for the education and the understanding.
After the movie we had a Q&A from the filmmakers and they revealed some interesting information.
- It was very difficult to find the girl for Holly, they really wanted an actual Vietnamese girl and so this complicated the casting and made it a much more lengthy process.
- The writer actually experienced young five year old girls soliciting him for money as in a very disturbing scene in the film when Patrick is pulled down a dark alley.
- They really wanted to show the victims point of view and open up the story from there.
- The rape scene was particularly difficult and the director worked with Nguyen very closely concentrating on the emotions and association of feelings that she should be going through rather than explaining exactly what was happening.
- Psychologists were on set to help and make sure that the children were okay.
- Felt the film should have a documentary style, like photo journalism. There had to be an immediacy and grain to it, they used a slow film stock pushed a few stops.
- Deliberately did not want a closure to the film, wanted to leave the question open of what happened to Holly.
- A lot of the brothels in the film were actually real brothels up until a few days before filming. They did hope that they were kept closed down afterwards, but weren't that naive.
- Filmmakers made a documentary called K11 Journey of the industry at the same time and this will also be released soon.
- The sex trade is viewed quite normally in these countries.
- Over two million children are sold into the sex industry every year.
- Government, mafia all involved from both Cambodia and Vietnam.
- www.redlightchildren.org has been created to tie together this, the documentary and another film called The Virgin Harvest and help spread the word of this terrible trade.