DVD Review: Holly (2006)

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It happens more often than one would think and usually in academic circles. You'll say something like, "My degree was in Film Studies," or "I work as a professional film critic," and immediately be given an eye-roll. Or if the person is a bit more polite, then perhaps the response leveled at you will be disguised with a smiling but condescending tone such as, "oh, wouldn't that just be fun?"

As if per se-- all movies are similar popcorn fare. Moreover, it assumes that the individuals, communities and sometimes countries involved are all interchangeable and thus unworthy of the amount of hard work a critic worth their salt should bring to the table in helping to guide intelligent audiences to seek out. Likewise, this dismissal presupposes that cinema as an art form or career is all simply for laughs.

And while granted, a good majority of films playing at the multiplex from the Hollywood dream factory don't have much value that will change one's life (e.g. Paul Blart: Mall Cop), there's still room for films of all kinds but one sad state of affairs is as The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber noted, "it seems to be harder and harder for excellent movies on difficult subjects to find their way to theaters."

The case he is referencing in particular was director Guy Moshe's tremendous 2006 film Holly-- which after years of being shipped from one festival to another and earning phenomenal praise-- ultimately received both a limited theatrical release in the Fall of 2007 until it's unceremoniously finally arriving on DVD here in 2009.

Theirs is a work that is not simply for laughs but one which broke cinematic barriers in becoming the first work wherein the producers Guy Jacobson and Adi Erzoni were given a prestigious citation and award naming them Anti-Trafficking Heroes from the U.S. Secretary of State Department in the "2008 Trafficking in Persons Report."

The recognition of the work of the two men whose three film project including two documentaries and this fictitious film (directed and co-scripted by Guy Moshe and Guy Jacobson) is centered primarily on their grassroots organization and foundation of the Redlight Children Campaign with the aim of "eradicating all forms of modern-day slavery," made them not only the sole two Americans "singled-out for recognition in 2008" but also the only filmmakers ever granted such a high honor in history as they took the universal medium of moving pictures to truly move audiences, educating them of the horrors that exist in the world of child sex workers around the globe.

In addition to outstanding critical buzz and festival play as well as some international coverage from CNN (which you can see here), Fox News, MSNBC, The New York Times and other outlets in all forms, sadly the film which also boasts the final screen performance of actor Chris Penn never fully found the audience it so richly deserved. Now the Priority Films picture is being given an outstanding release from City Lights Home Entertainment with a portion of the proceeds of every DVD sold to benefit the RedLight Children Campaign. Holly, the DVD contains additional bonus features including more information about the organization and their work involving the K11 Project, footage of the Anti-Trafficking Heroes Award, and an exclusive excerpt from their documentary Children for Sale.

The film centers primarily on Patrick (Office Space's Ron Livingston), an apathetic American wasting his life gambling in Cambodia's capital Phom Penh and working for a legally questionable tough guy import/exporter (Chris Penn) who seems to be only sightly more "together" than his fellow hustler who's perpetually down on his luck and broke.

After Patrick's motorbike breaks down in Cambodia's hellish K11 red light community where children as young as three and four are sold into sexual slavery by their families, he's forced to rent a room in a brothel until the bike can get fixed. While-- like most Americans-- he tries to keep his eyes straight ahead and oblivious to the goings-on of the community as beautiful children are led into sordid lives of abuse, exploitation, and slavery to the cruel whims of tourists and low-lives including a British lawyer (Udo Kier) who feels that since the culture is different, he'll take advantage of the situation of never feeling "so close to heaven."

Yet, soon Patrick's gaze is fixed on a young twelve year old girl named Holly (Thuy Nguyen) who seems quite out of place in her surroundings. Having already been introduced to the audience as the young Vietnamese girl whose family had sold her to the highest bidder due to her valued virginity (which can garner her madam roughly a grand) for trying to run away yet again-- Patrick finds himself drawn into her struggle, wanting to help save one out of the estimated thirty thousand child prostitutes working in that area alone.

Never taking a shortcut and perpetually reminding us that the plight is circular as Patrick's ability to possibly buy Holly's freedom would only encourage the sex trade and with the fact that there's nowhere for them to go firmly planted in our mind as he'd be unable to return to the U.S. with a Vietnamese minor and sneaking her back into her homeland from Cambodia would find them both guilty of illegal immigration-- the film is moving, startling, and thankfully taking a higher route than moving into the realm of morally questionable exploitation or tawdry scenes of the children "in action."

Moreover, it benefits considerably because of its determination to focus instead on the human lives involved. While the press release notes that Holly isn't just one girl but instead "the voice of millions of children who are exploited and violated every year with no rights or protection," the filmmakers know that by dealing primarily with Patrick and Holly and the complexity of their dynamic which seems to challenge the typical constraints of father/daughter or hero/victim to a gray area as Holly begins to develop a romantic attachment to the man and deep down we sense that he may wish it was all so simple as though he could marry her (if she was of age) and return to America-- it's an eye-opening work to the type of life that most of us are unaware and a situation that unfortunately isn't given the amount of coverage it should in our media.

While I've always agreed with the bumper sticker that states, "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention," and while one can feel helpless given the frightening statistics (mostly voiced by child aid advocate worker Virgine Ledoyen), at least we now have the benefit of knowledge thanks to the filmmakers and the simple hands-on ability to help the cause just by purchasing this remarkable film.

So the next time someone ever frowns when you express your love or passion for cinema or chides that it's all just "fun," remember that without crusading advocates, foundation organizers turned filmmakers Guy Jacobson and Adi Ezroni we wouldn't be getting the story from a news media more concerned with ratings than what's right and until then, at least we have the filmmakers who've set out to make a difference through the powerful medium of films... if that is, enough people pay attention.

Check out Holly today, fight the good fight by picking up the DVD, and while you're at it, use the handy e-mail (envelope icon) link below to send this on to some friends, urging them to do the same.