2009 Running time: 125 Certificate: 15 Rating: 3

Synopsis

The far-reaching human cost of Third World exploitation is brought vividly to life in Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's heart-wrenching drama. Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams appear to be the perfect New York couple... but a business trip to Bangkok brings home to him the realities of life as it's lived outside a world of privilege. A multi-stranded, smartly played ensemble piece, this acts as a curt acknowledgement of the unseen story behind the Thai prostitute and the Filipino maid.

Director

  • Lukas Moodysson

Cast

  • Gael Garcia Bernal

  • Michelle Williams

  • Sophie Nyweide

  • Marife Necesito

Review

Dot-com games innovator Leo (Garcia Bernal) lives the colour supplement life with his A&E doctor wife Ellen (Williams) in a luxury loft in New York's Soho.

Their eight-year-old daughter is looked after by kind and capable Filipino maid Gloria (Nyweide) who is sending money home to build a house for her two young boys.

It seems the ideal arrangement - the First World indirectly helping the Third at little human cost.

That all changes when Leo goes on a business trip to Bangkok with his boorish number-crunching partner and opts out of the deal-breaking to spend some time kicking back on a Thai beach.

Joining a hard-drinking posse of backpackers, he finds himself in a Thai brothel...but when he's approached by a prostitute has an attack of self-righteous guilt and pays her off. But remains intrigued.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Gloria's eldest boy naively figures out that if he were to earn some money himself then his mum wouldn't have to work and she could come home.

Director Moodysson relentlessly builds up the emotional pressure - Leo is tempted into a platonic friendship with the beach-bar hooker, Gloria's son takes a terrible decision and Ellen finds herself getting emotionally involved in a stabbed teenager in danger of dying.

An inexorable dread holds the attention (if you've seen Moodysson's disturbing Lilya 4-Ever you'll know what to expect) and as tragedy moves ever closer it's difficult to look away.

Some of the rich/poor comparisons jar - Leo's steel and glass seven-star hotel juxtaposed with Philippine slums and his ludicrously appointed loft apartment with Gloria's modest home.

Yet there's a core of humanity that's difficult to ignore and a terrible realisation that nothing's going to change.

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