The truth is, Holly is a public service announcement. A very well made, well produced, well written, well acted and well meaning public service announcement that will rip your still beating heart out of your chest and stomp on it, while you watch. If you enjoy that kind of thing, it’s a masterpiece. If you don’t, you’re going to need a stiff drink, or seven, and a Prozac prescription to get through this one.
The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” – Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)
A variation on that quote was used as the tagline for Schindler’s List. If you haven’t seen that movie, you should, everyone should. It’s terrifying but, by the end, there’s hope. In Holly, the only hope you feel is knowing that there’s one decent man in the world trying to save one young girl from the Cambodian sex slave trade. Trying is the operative word, here. Maybe the difference is that Schindler’s was about a war that ended. The concentration camps were closed. Holly is about a problem that, as horrifying as it may seem to some, still exists. That reality, more than anything else, makes it all the more poignant and moving but also infinitely more depressing.
Patrick (Ron Livingston) is an American card shark and small-time stolen artifacts dealer who has been in Cambodia for fifteen years, driven there by an undisclosed indescretion in the States. He partners up, in an artifacts export scheme, with another American named Freddie (the late Chris Penn in his last on-screen performance) who has the contacts they need to make their business turn big time. While travelling to set up another “shipment” Patrick’s motorcycle breaks down leaving him stranded in Phnom Penh’s village of Svay Pak (otherwise known as the K11 redlight district, because it’s 11 kilometers from Phnom Penh). Patrick rents a room at the local “hotel” which is nothing more than a brothel specializing in the local trade, child sex slaves. While there, he meets Holly, a twelve year old Vietnamese girl sold into slavery by her impoverished family.
What happens to Patrick is perfectly summarized, later, in a conversation with Freddie. “As long as you don’t stop and look in their eyes, your fine… I stopped Freddie, it was just an accident, but I stopped… and I looked in her eyes.” Before too long Holly disappears and Patrick ends up on a quest to find her among thousands of girls. Patrick, in many ways, proves himself to be a decent man. He’s still a criminal, a mediocre card shark and drinks like a fish but what hero is ever perfect, right?
The film was originally inspired by a real event in which producer/writer Guy Jacobson was accosted by a group of five or six year old children and petitioned for sex acts. One of the children claimed that she hadn’t made any money that day and if she didn’t bring money home to the madam she would be beaten. Since that incident Jacobson has been on a mission to raise awareness of the conditions in Cambodia and the entire Far East.
Holly is being billed as the first part to a three film series dubbed the “K11 Project.” It tells a compelling story and it’s difficult to criticize because it’s just not meant to be for entertainment. The cinematography, acting and choice of locations is absolutely first rate. In fact, the producers went to great lengths to shoot in the actual locations, brothels and all, where the story unfolds. Only two things may be an issue with viewers. One is an oddly discordant, modern classical soundtrack mixed with only a small amount of Asian music. Extremely minor but awkward enough to be noteworthy. The other issue, however, may make or break the film. The subject. While it’s an important one, there are going to be lot of people who either feel powerless to do anything or, even more terrifying, just don’t have it in them to actually care. This film isn’t going to change anything overnight but, given it’s already impressive reception and growin list of awards, it is definitely going to change a few minds.
Also on the DVD look for a very, very short making of featurette, an excerpt from the documentary “Children For Sale” and footage from the Anti-Trafficking Heroes Awards.
Guy Moshe (director) / Guy Jacobson, Guy Moshe (screenplay)
CAST: Ron Livingston … Patrick
Chris Penn … Freddie
Udo Kier … Klaus
Virginie Ledoyen … Marie
Thuy Nguyen … Holly
Sahajak Boonthanakit … Tommy