Monday, October 17, 2011

Hard Passage from Mexico: Cargo

Our lax border enforcement carries a terrible human price. An estimated 17,500 people, primarily women and children, will pay it each year when they are trafficked into this country, primarily (but not entirely) for purposes of sexual slavery. Natasha is one of those nameless women, who will endure a hard passage from Mexico to Brooklyn. Shining a spotlight on an important issue law enforcement around the world have had difficulty coming to grips with, Yan Vizinberg’s Cargo (trailer here) opens this Friday in New York.

Yes, perhaps Natasha should have known better, but she is hardly the first woman to be lured into bondage by the promise of a better life. The combination of international preferences for Russian and Eastern European women coupled with the economic stagnation of hardline holdover countries like Russia, Moldova, and Belarus have created an epidemic of human traffickers targeting their region. At least Natasha begins to suspect something is wrong shortly after she lands in Mexico.

Though beaten and threatened, Natasha is not a willing victim. She will make things difficult for Sayed, the Muslim Egyptian driver tasked with conveying her from Texas to New York. Unfortunately for him, she has more fight in her than his previous cargo. When forced by circumstances to bring her forward into the passenger seat, Natasha confronts him directly with the moral and practical implications of his actions.

It is in these smartly written verbal cat-and-mouse scenes that Cargo works best. Unlike some thematically related films like The Whistleblower, Natasha’s refusal to meekly submit adds a somewhat empowering element. However, events unfold in the third act that tax credibility, appearing to happen just to take the story to a specific place.

Natasha Rinis and Sayed Badreya carry the dramatic load quite capably, portraying the captor-and-captive dynamic with real nuance. Rinis is particularly poignant expressing Natasha’s fear and self-recriminations. Still, a bit of tightening would not have hurt the film, such as the too frequent exterior shots of Sayed’s van prowling down the interstate. The late blossoming of his conscience also seems a bit forced, particularly given his established gender attitudes.

Although a bit unpolished technically, Cargo certainly makes some important and timely points. Thanks to Rinis’s brave performance, it puts a human face on a global problem that shamefully exists here as well. Indeed, it is a film worth remembering whenever the importance of border security is minimized. Sobering but worth seeing for the work of Rinis and Badreya, Cargo opens this Friday (10/21) in New York at the Quad Cinema.