I remember seeing another such film Holly (Filmstalker review) which was part of the worldwide K-11 project to raise awareness of child trafficking and the sex trade. It was an emotional film and some of the images and moments stay with me to this day. I was expecting Evelyn to be the same kind of film.
It is. Just as powerful and emotional and with a convincing performance from the female lead.
The film follows the story of Evelyn, a young South American woman who is trying to earn a living for her and her entire family as she works as a cleaner. At the same time she's teaching herself typing in order to better herself and get a better job to earn more wages. However her mother is keen for her to follow her sister and go abroad to earn more money for the family, in fact she is ready to sign with an agency who helped her eldest daughter and to hand over the house as collateral in order for Evelyn's travel to be paid. However her sister is far from working in her dream job and when Evelyn does travel abroad the facade of what was a glorious foreign job turns into something much darker.
Film: I think the first thing I have to tell you is that the film is going to be an emotional one. It can be tough and upsetting at times but it's all for a reason and it does superbly well as it never goes too far, even in portraying some of the most harrowing moments of her life. Instead it shows you just enough to hook you in emotionally and make you feel for the character as well as understanding the situation and what it means. It never feels gratuitous or exploitative.
I thought that this is where the film really does excel as it manages to connect you with the character early on and so you feel so much more for her as she experiences the events in her life and you see them from her point of view. This is where the strength and difference comes over Holly (Filmstalker review) for we, the audience, are placed right with Evelyn and stay with her throughout. We don't see a third party in order to make and voice conclusions and assumptions for us, everything is presented to us and we make those directly.
At the beginning the story stays with Evelyn so that we can see who she is, where she comes from and what her life is and it never leaps to what is to come rather it stays with her and we share the experience. This slow building of the story from the opening works really well as a foundation for the rest of the film.
I was surprised how well the film kept the tension and suspense going throughout without racing forward with the story or overly telling it, there was a lot left to the imagination and understanding of the viewer to build the power and impact of the scenes as well as what this meant for the characters. The film-makers showed a lot of restraint in holding the story back and letting it develop at the same pace as the character and forever keeping the camera right with Evelyn and taking that time to keep that connection with her.
The film does stray slightly away from Evelyn with other characters in lingering shots, as she moves on to the camera stays a moment to capture reactions and emotions from those around her. It's through some of these moments that we gain further insights into her character and those around her, particularly of her sister and the owners Ricardo and his wife. Through these small lingering shots we discover some interesting motivations about the characters and twists in the story. The moments are small but are presented really well and if you catch them you'll see a minimal amount of explanation and development that deliver some strong reveals, as said the best example is discovering more about the stories of Ricardo and Amanda and of the emotional motivation of Amanda as well as Evelyn's sister. There are some great reveals through these moments and well worth keeping your eye on.
We also see some interesting views from the outsiders through some telephone calls and physical interactions with the cleaning staff. Again while the film remains with our lead character and showing her experiences we still get an understanding of how people outside her immediate world view it through threads regarding a client, his wife and the cook. Just these short connections with smaller characters give us important understanding of why this illegal industry is allowed to happen and indeed why it still makes money for those behind it.
Later in the story we gain an important understanding of the police involvement and it reflects everything about the film where there isn't a clear black and white or complete blame apportioned on one party, instead it documents the good and the bad and doesn't paint those involved as complete monsters, although Ricardo is close even though he to gets a chance to show another side.
There are some very disturbing aspects to the story, and obviously so, however it presents them well and doesn't play overly on your emotions. This means that you don't lose that emotional connection with the lead character and still feel that you're watching her story. There's enough to grab you emotionally and never enough to push you away from the film and allow it to be accused of seeking controversy. Evelyn's story is at times heartbreaking and there's a moment where the film breaks the viewer's spirit too, but it's just another aspect that shows how powerful it is.
Cindy Diaz who plays Evelyn is superb. She portrays a strong range and almost complete believability. I say that because I do remember one scene where it felt more she was playing a scene and that pushed me back from the story just a little, however the next moment had me right back in. She was convincing during her emotional scenes and during the changes in her character I was committed emotionally with her.
Evelyn doesn't present an over dramatised story, which it so easily could, and shows restraint and maturity by staying clear of preaching, presenting characters as they are without pointing the finger and with a story that doesn't overly tell itself crediting the audience with a degree of intelligence. It helps the audience understand how people get caught up in the sex trade and how they could possibly remain there without being judgemental.
The film helped me understand a number of things I didn't previously realise about the illegal sex trade and helped dispel a number of misconceptions I had, particularly to the women who remain in the lives that they have been forced into. Films like Evelyn need to be seen to raise awareness of what really goes on, to understand why and to save more women from this terrible life.
Evelyn is a powerful and emotional film that has been superbly written and brought to the screen. The lead captures your emotions and you really do feel for her. A number of times I was close to tears and after the film had finished the feelings stayed with me taking a good time before I could shake them off, even now as I proof read what I've written the feelings are coming back to me. That is the sign of a really good film and something you don't often feel outside of heart breaking documentaries.
Director and co-writer Isabel de Ocampo and co-writer Juanma Romero have delivered an important film that is well written, directed and edited, focussing the audience on the harrowing and personal story, keeping them engaged and emotionally entwined with the lead and helping them understand something about the women behind this illegal and immoral trade.