Trade was a film that always seemed so close to being the next big buzz. Even the early reports that Peter Landesman's "The Girls Next Door" (one of the most memorable and devastating exposés to appear in the New York Times Magazine) was to be adapted into a film immediately got my attention. I was stunned by the piece that chronicled the international business of human trafficking, not because I was so naive to believe that such things do not happen, but because so little was being done about it. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner was no doubt equally moved, giving partial writing credits to Landesman for the story. Its premiere at Sundance in 2007 was met with favorable reviews, especially for the two young women who play the leads, Alicia Bachleda and Paulina Gaitan. At some point last summer or early fall I started seeing the trailer for Trade at Landmark and (wrongly) assumed that it would make a theatrical appearance. After waiting and then forgetting, it was quietly released on DVD earlier this year.
The mysteries of missing theatrical releases are never to difficult to solve. After all, films need to make money, and it seemed, given the subject matter, that Trade would not be a blockbuster and would probably be a hard film to market. Nonetheless, if the film was decent and could at least garner a little critical acclaim, it could easily make for a moderately successful independent release. The foregone conclusion here is that Trade has problems. It suffers from some bad acting and some crappy writing and an inconsistent tone.
The film starts in Mexico City where Adriana is celebrating her 13th birthday and, simultaneously, Veronika is arriving from Poland on her way to the US. Both Veronika and Adriana are innocent of the road from abduction to market that they are about to travel. Adriana, who receives a new bike from her adorning big brother Jorge, goes against her mothers wishes and takes to the streets on her bike and is subsequently kidnapped. Veronika, thinking she is simply heading off to a better life in the US, is made brutally aware of her situation as she and her friend are handed off to the people who bought her and are intend on selling her. Veronika takes a motherly interest in protecting young Adriana as they are transported from hovel to hovel by their misogynistic captors. Adriana's brother Jorge, well acquainted with the seedy underworld of Mexico City, knows that he must find his sister if he ever wants to see her again. Jorge meets up with with Ray, a cop looking for his daughter, and together they try to uncover the mystery of his kidnapped sister and the trade ring she has become involved in.
Just trying to flesh out the synopsis of Trade reveals how convoluted and forced the entire story becomes. While Adriana and Veronica's characters are strong, the other characters in the story do nothing but muddy the waters: Ray, played by Kevin Kline, is a hopeless caricature of a good cop with his own problems that do nothing but deflate the film; Jorge is a contradictory character that sets up the no-duh idea that human trafficking is a social affliction that many have a hand in; Manuelo, the thug in charge of the merchandise, is unconvincingly morally conflicted with his job and his controlling girlfriend. Trade is very patronizing with its simplistic 'things are not how they always seem' scenarios and ends up being insulting given the source material. Trade veers so far off course that at one point the movie nearly becomes an ill-conceived buddy film between Ray and Jorge.
Trade doesn't even come close to the film it wants to be. Over-labored and distasteful, it is unwilling to invest emotionally or intellectually in the reality of the material. You needn't look any further than Lukas Moodysson to find someone willing to commit to unmarketable desolation. And although probably fewer people have seen Lilya 4-Ever, I'm willing to champion it for completely taking the wind out of me with it's emotional impact. Trade looks like Disney compared to it.