Directed by: Guy Moshe; Written and Produced by: Guy Jacobsen; Produced by: Adi Ezroni; Released by: Priority Films; Running time: 90 minutes
Holly is an intimate film with a global mission. Spurred to action by the five-year-old girls he saw forced into prostitution in Cambodia, writer and producer Guy Jacobsen created the film to raise awareness about child sexual exploitation. The K-11 is the notorious epicenter of the underage illegal sex trade in Southeast Asia. Eleven kilometers from downtown Phnom Penh, the “K-11” thrives with the knowledge of the Cambodian police and the help of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian mafias. The film’s central character, Holly, played by first-time actor Thuy Nguyen, is a twelve year-old Vietnamese girl sold by her family and forced to work in the ramshackle bungalows and back alleys that serve as prisons for countless young girls.
Guy Jacobsen did not want to make a film about pedophilia or a story that portrays the sensitive pedophile; instead he and director Guy Moshe wanted to expose the issue from the point of view of a young girl. The film evolves into an unlikely love story between two lost souls. Patrick, played by Ron Livingston of The Office, is a smuggler of artifacts. He gambles, drinks, plays cards, and floats through Asia never stopping to make a human connection or take a hard look in the mirror. His motorbike breaks down by the K-11 district and he is stranded for a few days. He is advised to spend the night at one of the brothels, where he insists on just a room, “no girls.” Holly prepares the room for him, and “Mama-San” the female brothel owner sing-songs that Holly is a virgin, and for a good price he can buy her.
The film, extraordinary in its realism and attention to detail, demonstrates how the motherly “Mama-San” becomes a vicious and manipulative warden as she coaxes frightened girls, and how the brothel becomes a prison, where little girls are jailed, robbed of their youth, and forced to serve pedophiles until they’re discarded. Without a hint of titillation or exploitation we are given a look inside a world most of us can’t imagine.
Systems of slavery can’t work without buyers, and we are introduced to the johns and pedophiles — who could be travelers anywhere — in an equally authentic manner. In one shot, Patrick speaks with a German lawyer played expertly by Udo Kier, who extols the exotic beauty and youth of the girls and has no inner conflict about satisfying his cravings in Cambodia while playing the good father at home. He justifies his behavior with a moral and cultural relativism that is the textbook definition of a perpetrator.
Holly informs the audience while delivering a fast-paced suspense film. Through Holly’s journey to escape we see the wreckage that is Cambodia: landmines, homeless children scavenging in dumps, and rampant police corruption. Patrick is a true anti-hero; he is reluctant to get involved, and when he does he must fight off his own conflicting feelings of desire and the impulse to protect. By the time he finds Holly she is wearing bright red lipstick and she is no longer a child.
It is rare that we abandon the comfort of our lives and demand change when we see an injustice. In many ways it is the filmmakers who are the heroes of this story. The entire creative team of Holly is from Israel, where sex trafficking has been an enormous problem. Jacobsen says “you cannot be a prophet in your own country” and chose instead to create a film about the experience in Cambodia. Going undercover in the K-11, the producers surreptitiously took photographs and studied the mannerisms and speech patterns of trafficked girls, johns, and madams. After numerous threats, guards with AK-47s were hired to protect the cast and crew while filming. Quite simply, they risked their lives to make this film.
Priority Films has created Red Light Children, a nonprofit dedicated to exposing, fighting, and ending child sexual exploitation. It is a passionate step toward raising awareness of this global industry and an inspiration for all of us to take action.email print