“Holly” takes a sensitive subject easy to sensationalize, but to their credit, writer Guy Jacobson and director Guy Moshe deliver a story with stark objectivity, all the while making a case and plea for our awareness to the subject of child trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.
Ron Livingston plays a fast and loose card shark dealing in stolen artifacts in Cambodia. When his cycle breaks down in the infamous K-11 crime district, he is revolted by a madame’s offer to deflower a 12-year-old virgin. As he gets to know the girl named Holly (Thuy Nguyen), sold into prostitution by her family, his conscience beings to rule. Soon, he befriends Holly, only to learn the hard way that good will and noble intentions are not enough to extract her from slavery.
As he is informed by a social worker played by Virginie Ledoyen, the girl can no longer return home, taking her to America is much too complicated, and now, like any other rescuer, he is in trouble with the Vietnamese Mafia. Moreover, if he buys her way out of slavery, he is encouraging the slave trade even more by pumping revenue into the coffers of evil.
Moshe and Jacobson have their hearts in the right place, but their aim is not always matched by technique. Moshe takes too much time setting up scenes, too often preferring an extended long shot in favor of inserts. “Holly” is not the work of a first-rate director or writer. It would be better if the movie gave us more background about Holly’s family and the plights of other girls.
Still, the direct, rather simplistic approach amasses power by virtue of its subject matter. Holly’s situation is one more example of terrible moral wrongs perpetuated or tolerated by corrupt government officials, many of which do not have natural resources worth coveting. We may also want to consider that the sex-slave trade would not prosper if Western males, many of them affluent, did not seek out and pay for services rendered by innocents.
The closest the movie comes to tackling that issue is with the inclusion of a cynical German businessman played by Udo Kier. He may not seek out little girls, but he tolerates the slave practice as a fact of life.
Granted, “Holly” is not the kind of movie that entertainment-bound audiences frequent on Saturday evenings. But it does present an important issue with integrity and force. Anyone who sees “Holly” will probably be moved to contribute in some way to a cause that brings an end to this terrible situation.
This being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the movie is being presented in conjunction with the K-11 Project spearheaded by writer Jacobson. He will be at the Spectrum in Albany on Friday and Saturday evenings to lead a discussion after the early evening screenings.
DIRECTED BY Guy Moshe
SCREENPLAY BY Guy Jacobson
STARRING Ron Livingston, Thuy Nguyen, Chris Penn, Virginie Ledoyen and Udo Kier. In English, Khmer and Vietnamese.
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes