Whistle while you work
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Justinian in Miss Lumière

The Whistleblower - directed by Larysa Kondracki ... Corruption cover-up at the UN in Bosnia ... Fortunately Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) gets the story to the Beeb ... High drama ... Miss Lumière at the cinema 

Aside from whistling up a fair bit of tension, this exceptionally taut political thriller also manages to convey the reality of lives lived in sheer terror.

That could be because it's based on real events involving the brutal sex trafficking business in post-war Bosnia - a trade conducted by UN peacekeepers.

The whistleblower of the title is a real person, Kathryn Bolkovac, here played with straight-faced restraint by a newly gym-buffed Rachel Weisz. Gone are the soft curves and the soft-headedness. 

Rachel Weisz: Contracted to the UN

This character's not for dancing. Weisz' portrayal of Bolkovac is cool and unsentimental, which is just as well given the situation she is confronted with after she is posted to Bosnia as part of a UN peace-keeping force.

This former Nebraska cop, who can't get a transfer in the US to be closer to her daughter, soon discovers that most of her colleagues are untrained in basic policing skills.

Like her, they're being paid in excess of $100,000 by private contracting company Democra Corp (a pseudonym for DynCorp) to do a six-month stint in war-ravaged Sarajevo.

If, as John Paul Sartre once said, "hell is other people" there's plenty of fire and brimstone around.

The film opens with two teenage Ukrainian girls Raya (Roxana Condurache) and Luba (Paula Schramm) deciding to escape their dreary Ukrainian lives.  

They've been told they'll get work in an hotel.

What they get instead is sheer torture - for them and the audience.

So convincingly directed are the scenes of sexual enslavement and physical abuse that your reviewer was curled in a foetal position more than once.

Bolkovac stumbles across the truly gruesome brothel where these girls end up, almost by accident. 

Photographs glued to the walls reveal most of the clientele are UN men and later she uncovers the grotesque truth that these same men also run the sex-slave trade.

Bocovac's promise to keep the two girls safe forms the film's central emotional narrative, with the murky politics of peacekeeping in Bosnia threaded cleverly through.

It's a complex, dramatic screenplay, switching from real-politik to real terror.

It's brilliantly directed and edited, allowing for pace, tension, intimacy and finally revulsion.

Filmed in sludgy, rain-soaked Romania, the settings have a grim authenticity, which that country's tourist board wouldn't be too happy about.

Hypocrisy and subterfuge loom large and in the final analysis Bolkovac learns what we all know about those brave enough to blow the whistle on wrongdoing - the people in power don't care.

What's worse, the corruption goes all the way to the top and they want it covered up. Now.

In the fine words of Democra Corp's head when confronted with graphic evidence of his employees' trafficking and brutality:

"These are the whores of war."

Strathairn: ever-watchableVanessa Redgrave makes a convincing appearance as Madeleine Rees, local representative of the UN Human Rights Commissioner and the gorgeous Monica Bellucci appears as the inhuman bureaucratic face of an international refugee repatriation agency.

The ever-watchable David Strathairn is interesting as the internal affairs officer who helps Bolkovac get the evidence out to the BBC in London.

But the film belongs to the largely unknown young women playing the victims. They convey the fear and vulnerability of their characters viscerally.

It made your reviewer want to get on the next plane to some war-torn eastern bloc hole and rescue brothel-loads of teenage prostitutes.

Then again, perhaps not.

Miss Lumière

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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