Shot on location in Cambodia, including many scenes in actual brothels in the notorious red light district of Phnom Penh, HOLLY is a captivating, touching and emotional experience. Patrick, an American card shark and dealer of stolen artifacts, has been 'comfortably numb' in Cambodia for years, when he encounters Holly, a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl, in the K11 red light village. The girl has been sold by her impoverished family and smuggled across the border to work as a prostitute. Holly's virginity makes her a lucrative prize, and when she is sold to a child trafficker, Patrick embarks on a frantic search through both the beautiful and sordid faces of the country, in an attempt to bring her to safety. Harsh, yet poetic, this feature forms part of the 'K-11' Project, dedicated to raising awareness of the epidemic of child trafficking and the sex slavery trade through several film projects. The film's producers endured substantial hardships in order to be able to shoot in Cambodia ... Written by
I have to admit that Holly was not on my watch list for the Edinburgh Film Festival. However, after the Artistic Director of the Festival specifically recommended this film to an audience of over 200 people prior to the screening of another film, I decided to go to see it. Wow!
This film is dealing with the very difficult issue of child prostitution and does so without any compromise. I have found myself crying a number of times during the movie and laughing at others. Speaking about an emotional roller coaster.
The lead actor (Thuy Nguyen) is a Vietnamese newcomer (who was only 14 at the time of filming) and had to tackle this incredibly complex and difficult role. She reminded me of Keisha Castle-Hughes from Whale Rider but the role here is much more demanding as she has to play a child prostitute. Chances are that she will win numerous awards.
The main story is about a girl who was sold to prostitution by her family and held as a sex-slave in a brothel in Cambodia. She meets an American (played by Ron Livingston in a strong dramatic role that we are not used to see from him), who after spending some time with her decides to help her. By that time however, she is sold again and he is going on a search for her around Cambodia. The story turns and twists and the audience can never predict what will happen next.
The acting was strong across the board with a very interesting international cast. Udo Kier (very convincing as a sex tourist), Virgine Ledoyen (touching as a social worker) and Chris Penn (one of his last movies). The Asian cast was also superb.
Although the film deals with this difficult subject matter it focuses successfully on telling a compelling, powerful story. It was shot in Cambodia (some scenes in real operating brothels) which adds to the feeling that you are almost watching a documentary. It seems that the DP used a lot of hand held camera and close-ups and overall it made you feel like you are right there as part of the story.
After the screening, I was listening to other members of the audience as they left and it seemed that they were all stunned. This is not an easy film to watch and I salute the filmmakers for not making a "Hollywood Film."
It is by far the best film I have seen in the Edinburgh Film Festival. Opinion shared by my husband and a couple of other friends.
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