Friday evening was a madhouse at The Magnolia, as the AFI Dallas International Film Festival took over three screens. The theater has been in operation for five years and has been maintained in top shape. The public spaces became quite jammed, but the weather was balmy outside and the bar was functioning inside, so no worries.
Trade pushes buttons like mad, baldly and aggressively manipulating emotions, but it could be argued that you can't make a calm, reasoned picture about sexual slavery.
As soon as 13-year-old Adriana (Paulina Gaitan) sneaks out of her Mexico City home early one morning to ride her newly-acquired bicycle against the orders of her mother, we know she'll be punished for her disobedience. She's almost immediately snatched off the street by a vicious Russian gang. The gang has demonstrated little regard for human life, so we know little Adriana is in big trouble.
Her brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) tries to ride to her rescue, but is thwarted in his efforts until he meets up with Ray (Kevin Kline), a soft-spoken Texas law enforcement officer. Meanwhile, Adriana is befriended by another kidnap victim, Veronica (Alicja Bachleda-Curus, who was also in the director's previous film, Summer Storm). Veronica is a beautiful single mother from Poland; while Adriana is initially spared sexual assault, Veronica is raped and beaten without mercy.
The contrast between the two is nicely detailed: Adriana is scared out of her mind, but clings to a religious idol she wears around her neck, and hopes. Veronica fatalistically absorbs her punishment, realizing with a degree of quiet fury that she is helpless to do much more than try and survive for the sake of her son, left behind with her parents.
Both actresses are very strong in their roles. Kevin Kline serves as the counterpoint to all the emotional hyper-activity. As Ray, he's weighed down and somber much of the time, but retains his deadpan delivery when needed for comic relief, which comes in some of his exchanges with the sharp-witted Jorge. There's enough hinting that we know what his "secret revelation" will be, which doesn't negate the subtle way that Kline communicates his anguish and pain.
Marco Kreuzpaintner previously made the gay teen coming-of-age Summer Storm, which also followed a predictable narrative but was told in appealing fashion. With presumably a much bigger budget, Trade expands his cinematic vocabulary -- jumpy handheld footage, sweeping crane shots, and the like -- without allowing the visuals to get in the way of the story.
Inspired by an article in the New York Times, Trade draws attention to an issue with some of the most despicable criminals and pitiable victims imaginable. The Hollywood-style treatment, in which everything is underlined twice and explained again with footnotes, feels excessively pushy and simplistic.
Judging by the audience's reaction, though, the film could easily tap into every parent's nightmare.