CINEMA: by Anthony BarichNews Weekly
Australia's seamy underside laid bare - The Jammed
, October 13, 2007
The Jammed is a disturbing new film inspired by real-life stories of prostitution and human-trafficking in Australia.The film The Jammed (rated MA) is a low-budget Australian thriller about prostitution and human-trafficking. It is about a world we have always known existed but have failed to recognise or even acknowledge.
|Brothel-owner Wade (Adriano Cortese)|
confronted by Chinese mother
Sunee (Amanda Ma)
Director Dee McLachlan holds up a mirror to society, and we are bound to recoil from what we see.
Inspired by actual events and Australian court transcripts, McLachlan produced The Jammed
after reading a newspaper report about five Asian girls held captive as sex-slaves in a brothel in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. The story was given little more than a few paragraphs.
"This was a reflection of the fact that people had put this on the backburner," McLachlan told News Weekly
"In the public eye, these girls seem to be insignificant social 'things'.
"Some footballer beats someone up at a hotel, and it's front page. But holding people as slaves, even though [slavery] was abolished 200 years ago, doesn't seem to rate in people's consciences."Missing daughterThe Jammed
is set in Melbourne, where running brothels has been legal for some years. The story is about a young woman (Veronica Sywak), whose social life is going nowhere. Hooked on caffeine and bored with her job, she agrees, reluctantly, to help a Chinese mother, Sunee (Amanda Ma), whom she has met by chance, to find her missing daughter.
Ashley's investigations draw her unwillingly into Melbourne's dark underworld as she tries to rescue Russian girl Vanya (Saskia Burmeister) and Chinese girls Li Rong (Sun Park) and Crystal (Emma Lung).
Ashley's revulsion towards the people who enslave these women drives her to confront them. In doing so she puts her own life in danger, and receives no help from her friends who would rather she "stay inside and have a cuppa".
The three enslaved girls were originally enticed to Australia by being told a lie - in Crystal's case, she was told she would be a dancer, and at first flatly refuses to work in a brothel.
But through intimidation, through violent abuse and rape, she succumbs. The brothel-owners tell her she needs to work to pay off a debt of tens of thousands of dollars that it allegedly cost to bring her to Australia.
The most shocking thing about this film is not the violence, rape and humiliation of these girls; it's the apathy of the inhabitants of the "regular" world when the protagonists appeal to them for help.
As Ashley door-knocks a Melbourne suburb, seeking help in her search for Li Rong, the most startling thing is not just the lack of interest of those she encounters, but the fact that this reaction is all too familiar to us.
We simply don't want to know. It's always someone else's daughter, someone else's problem, even as we attempt to legislate to "reform" it.
Even when Ashley and Vanya confront the brothel-owner's wife, who is complicit in the crime, she does not react with anger, but apathy. She just wants to get on with organising her art exhibition in a plush Melbourne apartment.
No one cares about these women. To those who enslave them, and to the rest of the world, they are faceless commodities.
This notion is conveyed poignantly, almost comically, when Li Rong asks one of her "customers" to post a letter back home to her mother, because she is forbidden to leave the building to do it herself.
The director favours a narrative technique over a documentary style, and succeeds in putting a human face to the devastating global problem of human-trafficking. Although we see violations take place with gut-wrenching realism, the film itself is not pornographic.
There are some traumatic episodes, but the film's focus is on their impact on the women, and how they numb themselves to the emotional pain and spiritual degradation.
Familiar locations, such as Melbourne's Federation Square and Flinders Street Railway Station, give the story an all-too-real sense that this actually is happening, not on our doorstep but under our very noses.
The movie also takes issue with the heartless bureaucrats who process these women like cattle and deport them. However, the bureaucrats are possibly ignorant of the women's true plight because the women, after they manage to escape and go to the police, are too petrified to testify against the brothel-owners.The Jammed
could not have come out at a better time for Western Australia, where the parliament is considering a bill to decriminalise prostitution.
Only recently, WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty - who is pushing for the legislation - and both Labor and Liberal MPs have had meetings on the issue with one of Europe's leading experts of human-trafficking and prostitution, Gunilla Ekberg.
If MPs across Australia - who have either legalised prostitution or are considering decriminalising the industry - were to see this film, they would be less inclined to trot out the familiar old arguments justifying prostitution: "It's the world's oldest profession; it will always be around, so we may as well license it so we can contain it."Insulting
Watching this film, one finds it insulting to read the WA Prostitution Law Reform Working Group's report (which has provided the framework for WA's current proposed legislation), in which it says brothel-owners are required to be of "good character" to obtain licences to run these places.
This is a must-see movie that makes a desperate but powerful plea for these poor women.
It is like a bucket of ice water thrown over us to wake us up from our apathy about their plight.- The Jammed is reviewed by Anthony Barich, a Western Australian journalist.