Synopsis: A powerful two-part drama about two young Moldovan sisters kidnapped and trafficked through Europe to the dark side of London, betrayed by pimps and police, and fighting for their lives. Featuring Maury Chaykin, Elina Lowensohn, Wendy Crewson, John Simm, Anamaria Marinca
Sex Traffic 8.0
eyelights: its unflinching look at sex trafficking.
eyesores: the camerawork.
‘Sex Traffic’ is a British/Canadian co-production about a couple of sisters who are tricked into leaving Romania with the promise of work in London, only to discover that they are actually being sold as sex slaves. It’s a harrowing tale, and it’s certainly one of the most profoundly disturbing ones I’ve seen on screen in recent times.
I was already aware of the situation in Eastern Europe; I’d read a bunch of articles about it a few years ago and was gutted to find out that so many women were being kidnapped and coerced into the sex trade. I could conceive of this possibility (the human race can be frightfully heartless, after all), but I had no idea that it was so rampant.
Even though I already knew about this issue, watching ‘Sex Traffic’ made me extremely angry. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs at the horror of the life that some women are forced to lead. I wanted to crush the horrible men who would be involved in such terrible deeds, to kill them slowly and excruciatingly, to make their existence as unbearable as they’ve made it for others.
But I’m powerless. I can only sit here impotently.
When I think of sex trafficking I can’t help but wonder why people treat each other this way. How can this seem acceptable somehow? How can anyone be so separated from his/her (yes, women are involved in this as well) own humanity that they could destroy the lives of individuals this way? We’re not talking faceless victims, here – the women are abused daily, under the kidnappers’ very noses.
In some ways it made me think of the chicken and pig farms that feed us – the way that we have no qualms putting other beings in massive kennels, confined, with no existence except for fattening up and then dying. The women who are torn from their lives and forced into slavery live under similar conditions. Except that they are raped continuously and mentally abused constantly.
Fucking Hell. If there is a hell on earth this must be it.
‘Sex Traffic’ gets off to a jarring start with a conflict between some law officers in Bosnia, with one of them disrupting the filming of some gonzo porn. We don’t know what is going on exactly, who the players are and what’s at stake. This opening was too abrupt for me; there was no “foreplay”. And that’s before we get hit over the head by Immigration enforcers busting a nighttime boat smuggling.
Well, there wouldn’t be any foreplay in this two-part mini-series. It’s not sexy. In fact, it’s anti-sexy. And rightly so.
Although ‘Sex Traffic’ revolves around the two sisters, it features four converging characters arcs:
1. Sergeant Tate, a Canadian law officer who gets kicked out for having interactions with a prostitute in Bosnia, even though it’s not established that he had sex with her. If anything, he wants to help her get out, and he has video proof that other men in his section are actually leading the sex trade there. His name having been dragged through the mud, he is incapable of getting work anywhere – so he decides to blackmail the security company that fired him but kept the others on their payroll. He would find himself face to face with a willful enemy in the form of a corporate giant who refuses to admit its mistakes and will do everything to erase them.
2. Elena and Vara, two Romanian sisters who were promised work in London by Vara’s boyfriend. Elena was slightly sceptical at the onset, but was so desperate to find work (to feed her infant son), that she allowed herself to be dragged along. Vara, however, is the naive younger sister and only saw trouble when it hit her in the face; she wouldn’t heed Elena’s warnings. Within little time, though, they come to realize that they aren’t being smuggled out to Great Britain but are being kidnapped. From that point onward it’s one disturbing violation after the next, from one brothel to the other, bought and sold, like cattle. Soul-destroying stuff.
3. Daniel Appleton, a journalist for Speak For Freedom who has been working on some immigration cases, but finds himself at dead ends and is sent to Bosnia. There he discovers a conspiracy to hide the involvement of the law officers in the sex trade (they are not supposed to interact with the locals, let alone have sex with prostitutes) and begins to pursue a few leads. Despite the disapproval of his bosses and mounting outside pressures, he ends up on Sergeant Tate’s trail and eventually finds Lena. He will put everything on the line to help her get out and find her sister.
4. Madeleine and Tom Harlsburgh, executives at Kernwell, the corporation that is in charge of security in Bosnia. Although Madeleine is mostly a spokesperson, Tom is at the center of the conspiracy of silence; he and his colleagues know something is up but are turning a blind eye – even after one of them is contacted by Sergeant Tate. Meanwhile, Madeleine has been trying to get women’s shelters to work with them; giving a shelter money is good for Kernwell’s image. But rumours abound about the Bosnian incident and shelters balk at the generous offer. Madeleine then becomes suspicious and begins to dig up the dirt on her end, while the Kernwell execs manage the situation with spin and deceit.
Even though I found it hard to watch, I thought that ‘Sex Traffic’ made for excellent television. It’s not for the faint of heart, though: the constant rape, the dead souls, the human casualties, it was the stuff of nightmares and it left an impression on me even though I’ve seen some terrifying things on screen and already knew what to expect. This is not fun.
However, it’s exactly what a good show should do, which is not just to entertain but to move you as well. And if it can make you think in the process, even better. ‘Sex Traffic’ does all of these things.
The key problems with the show are in the camera work, in that the footage maddeningly switches between still and shaky cam with seemingly no rhyme or reason, and it feels and looks like a TV production. Let’s face it, there are contrivances and melodrama that are fixtures of television, not so much of cinema. Unfortunately, you’ll find them here .
To make matters worse, the DVD had cuts between some scenes for inclusion of commercial breaks. It was annoying, and yet the producers easily could have avoided this: the music actually flowed through the “breaks”, so they could simply have removed them and the end result would have felt like a movie – a TV movie, yes, but a movie nonetheless.
Either way, ‘Sex Traffic’ was much better than I expected it to be. But it’s a rough watch, and it could kill almost anyone’s libido. It’s filled with endless violations, mind, body and soul. And betrayals. God, the betrayal. The many many betrayals. My heart bleeds at the idea that someone, somewhere, right here, right now, has to live this life, experience this Hell.
And someone is. Think about it.
Date of viewing: August 21, 2013