Wept for the Age of Innocence
Before the end situation goes even further downhill in Holly, French children’s aid worker Marie, played by Virginie Ledoyen, tells Ron Livingston’s Patrick that “as long as it’s not tragic, it’s happy.” Having remained in Cambodia after love wore out, “to see the people smile after what they’ve been through,” she is well up on the limitations of good intentions in the face of barriers legal and illegal and of corruption, custom, poverty and despair. As a young foreign veteran in that country to which he drifted “a couple years out of school,” he, on the other hand, has observed and learned nothing of surrounding reality beyond his supposed bad luck as a poker sharp among hustlers.
Unbelievably more innocent than the innocence he will try to protect, he and his stubble-bearded head are barely held above water by compatriot Freddie (Chris Penn, a last film before his death at forty), who furnishes advice and cash for small-time delivery of contraband including stolen art. On one such motorcycle errand, a leaky fuel tank forces an overnight in the capital’s Svay Pak, or K11, since moved elsewhere but until few years ago a principal site for child-sex tourism cheaper than in neighboring Thailand.
At the sleazy hotel where he insists on just a place to bed down, he is suspicious to the nasty madam mama san (Montakan Ransibrahmanakul) who grudgingly accepts his room money and refusal of her persistent offers of much more. Walls decorated with elegant Asian girlie reproductions, the dingy café-bar-brothel’s new attraction is still-intact twelve-year-old Holly (Thuy Nguyen, her acquired U.S. accent showing through the pidgin English), sold across the border by impoverished Vietnamese parents, just recaptured after an escape attempt, and offered at a thousand-dollar virgin’s fee that is immediately negotiable.
(SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ON)
Spiritually attracted by this immature girl ordered to clean the room, and repelled by European expat Klaus’s (Udo Kier) man talk about Asian women and mores, Patrick overcomes the adolescent’s sullen hostility, defies the cynicism of the other, slightly older sex workers and buys Holly a soup meal, helps her gather fruit, gain childish revenge, and learn to drive a motor scooter.
Livingston’s hangdog expression never varies, among an entire cast of unrounded performers -- many of them on-the-spot non-actor locals -- so his motivation is not easy to pin down. A later scene in which, tired, tipsy and clothed, he lies on a hotel bed with the sleeping girl, suggests an attendant physical attraction, which he nobly suppresses.
As Marie points out, there is the additional question -- raised elsewhere in the wake of celebrity adoptions abroad -- of doing more harm than good in taking as one’s own a single boy or girl from among the thirty thousand such prostitutes she cites, which number will soon double even if all were bought to be rescued. Like “anyone here, just trying to survive,” and doing a poor job of it, Patrick needs his pay and so pushes on, leaving his disillusioned new friend to sorry destiny.
When he returns to find and take her away, Holly has fled again in what must be another plot inconsistency, for she is terrified of threatened retaliation on her family and the sexual enslavement of a little sister. Presumed dead in one of the endless minefields that scar what a U.S. pilot called “the last paradise,” she has nevertheless survived, to scavenge in garbage and, attaching herself to another urchin, make her way back to the city by exchanging Patrick’s wristband for boat passage on the Tonle Sap.
In one of life’s coincidences, a mourning Patrick spots the swapped ornament on a ferryman and, broke but aided by drivers, searches for the lost girl, who has been resold to another brothel by a venal policeman. Vaccinated, drugged, deflowered, she is hardened and soon jealous when he locates her once more. But without influence or funds, and opposed by criminals and a bureaucracy which claims to combat human trafficking by refusing adoptions and exit visas, they turn to Marie’s AFESIP NGO children’s home, there to bid each other a goodbye which turns out be but the prelude to even darker implied fates.
With two companions in documentaries The Virgin Harvest and The K11 Journey, fiction narrative Holly forms part of New York City lawyer-investment banker, co-writer/-producer/original storywriter Guy Jacobson’s K11 Project in conjunction with Redlight Children Campaign. A first feature directed by also co-writer and –producer Guy Moshe, it was filmed in Cambodia, often under armed guard in dangerous locations. Film stock, handheld camerawork, limited-light night shooting, acting and, one suspects, budget considerations, give a blue-tint documentary style of simplicity and authenticity. The almost amateur impression allows for emphasis on what this urgent tale is about, rather than on any neat, packaged film-ness.
(Released by Priority Films/Max Entertainment; not rated by MPAA.)