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Before reading the review, listen to our in-depth examination of the film above. There are a lot of reasons why a film like Sold should been seen, no matter the manner in which it was made or the impact it might not fully garner. The world, in all its great beauty, naturally harbors horrific sadness and strife as well, and there are endless stories of people who have struggled to overcome the worst life can offer. For that, the movies can enlighten, educate, and motivate action, and films such as Sold certainly compel and move the viewer, even if it stumbles a bit with its presentation.
In the mountains of Nepal, a 13-year-old girl named Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia) lives in a remote village with her adoring mother and out of work, desperate father. She is a naive girl of course, sequestered in a small world that appears boundless but is absolutely so. When the rains wash ways their crops, she is offered to ‘Auntie’ Bimla (Tillotama Shome), an attractively-adorned Indian woman lingering around town that seems to have hope for work in the city for Lakshmi.
What we know of course, but what her parents can’t seem to guess, is that their daughter is bound for a brutal brothel, where she is put under the care of madam Mumtaz (Sushmita Mukherjee), a slippery, foul-smelling woman who forces Lakshmi into a sexual servitude where the girl is raped repeatedly in a dirty room, told to pay off a “debt” that will take years to accomplish. Meanwhile, on the streets is Sophia (Gillian Anderson), an American photographer working with an organization called Hope House, working to free girls like Lakshmi. But’s not as easy as it should be, and now these woman have a frightful journey to make in reaching freedom.
Directed by Jeffrey D. Brown, and adapted from the acclaimed book of the same name by Patricia McCormick, Sold is by its nature a difficult film to critique. The real-world atrocities it depicts in its fictional story are horrific to watch of course, especially as we understand that they reflect a terrible truth. While the film dramatizes the issue and gives a face to the plight of so many young girls, there is a detachment to it that is hard to nail down. Brown is careful not to exploit the actors or the situation, and yet there is a sort of sheen to it all that feels sanitized, most assuredly to help audiences come to grips with what is happening, something a documentary might have better revealed.
This is slightly compounded a bit by the Sophia character, and Sam (David Arquette), an investigator for Hope House who serve as heroes for the story as they expose the red tape and international bureaucracy that impedes the rescue of these girls. The film uses these characters to highlight the efforts and roadblocks facing people like them who strive to save millions like Lakshmi, and Sold works hard to give great depth to their’s and the girl’s stories. Yet there is a cleanliness to the film that feels a little too hopeful, given the fate of Lakshmi, and while it’s an undeniably gripping tale, is watered down to a less than impactful ending that doesn’t quite keep us invested in the real issue, rather than only hers.
That said, the film does very well in capturing Lakshmi’s emotional journey. The jarring, necessary images of her under extreme abuse work to place us right with her as she tries to understand what is happening and why. A girl at the prime of her physical and mental growth for the animals that will come to use her, our witnessing of her tied to a bed for days at a time as a vessel for the faceless horde of men who take her is difficult to watch, even if the odd pulsing musical beats feel inappropriate. What we get from these scenes is the unbridled spirit of freedom that become ignited with Lakshmi, and she emerges from the metaphorical cocoon of her innocence into an intelligent and clever young woman who knows how to work the system and when to take action.
Sold shines a troubling light on an often ignored human rights disaster, and while a well-produced documentary might have served the cause better, at least the film should open some eyes. While it mishandles a few key elements and relegates both Anderson and Arquette to mostly forgettable mentions, it’s still an engaging and harrowing story that needs more attention.
Movie description: Sold is a 2016 drama about a girl who risks everything to escape the brothel she was forced into after being kidnapped from her home.
Director(s): Jeffrey D. Brown
Actor(s): Niyar Saikia, Gillian Anderson, Priyanka Bose, David Arquette