Film criticism is not an easy job. On a daily basis, you will run the gamut of emotions when watching films. You really never know what you are going to see. You get the broad strokes of what is going to happen but never the full picture. Sometimes, you see films that are bad. Sometimes, you see films that are good and make you feel good. And sometimes, you see one that is fantastic that lives you feel shaken by what you just saw. Ilaria Borrelli’s fantastic and haunting release, The Girl From The Brothel fits into this third category comfortably, as one that will leave you speechless.
Mia (Ilaria Borrelli), a successful Paris-based photographer, flies to Cambodia to surprise her businessman husband, Xavier (Philippe Caroit). She wants to start a family with him. But her hopes are dashed when she spies her husband in a brothel, having sex with an eleven year-old girl named Srey (Seta Monyroth). Mia is devastated by what she sees and decides to rescue Srey and return her to the remote village from where she was abducted. Mia strikes a bargain with the brothel owner and sacrifices her body to free the little girl. She and Srey escape and embark on the long journey home only to discover that Srey has stowed away two other young escapees from the brothel. On the run, the four try to return to their separate villages spread across the Cambodian jungle and learn to heal along the way.
The Girl From The Brothel is incredibly affecting and treats the difficult and heavy subject matter at hand with the proper amount of respect and gravitas it deserves. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this film could come across as heavy-handed, exploitative, and cynical. Thankfully, Borelli is not a lesser filmmaker as she is clearly passionate about the exploitation of these young children and this passion emanates throughout the project.
Directing this story is challenging enough but Borelli turns in a fantastic performance as Mia. The vulnerability and honesty she brings to the role helps the audiences go through the darker elements of the story along with her. No role in this film is an easy task for an actor but Borrelli and her cast give it there all. The young children in this movie are incredible; not only for their age but also for the amount of emotionally challenging moments they have to pull off in this movie. The three young women in this movie give performances that I imagine even adult actors would have trouble pulling off. But the best performer in the film is Illeria Borelli.
I am not at all familiar with Borelli’s work but I do know a great performance when I see one. She gives a compelling and fascinating performance of a woman who has been broken down and taken advantage of by the men around her. Her maternal relationships with the young women in the brothel anchor the movie and provide it with heart and humanity.
My only criticism of the The Girl From The Brothel is that it's very emotionally draining to watch as a viewer. This film is not an easy watch and I would not judge you if you struggle while watching it. I know I did. It is an experience that left me shaken and horrified by the depravity of what people will to do young children. There is a lingering and heartbreaking feeling of innocence lost. This loss permeates and stuck with me after it was over. That being said, I encourage you to seek this one out. The Girl From The Brothel is important because of this darkness and lack of innocence. Movies are meant to challenge and entertain. If we as audience members just give up feeling things during films, we are not really experiencing the variety of human experiences and emotions and that would be a tragic disservice to the brilliant work on display in this motion picture.
-Liam S. O'Connor