The issue of sex trafficking is so serious, a horror whose global reach is so staggering, that it feels churlish to do anything but praise projects shining a light on it. But Sold, written by Joseph Kwong and Jeffrey Brown (who also directs) and starring Gillian Anderson in a small white-savior role, is such a solid example of film-industry liberalism’s shortcomings that it warrants only the faintest praise.
Based on the novel by Patricia McCormick and inspired by the documentary Born Into Brothels, Sold opens with sweeping views of Hemjakot, Nepal, before homing in on the picturesque poverty of children laughing, smiling old men weaving baskets, and elderly women looking on placidly. It could pass as a tourist ad for Europeans wanting to experience a relaxed pace of life surrounded by noble brown people.
The film is reductive and fetishistic at its core, centering on the horrifying experiences of a girl named Lakshmi after her drunkard, layabout father arranges for her to work as a domestic in the city to help her family financially. That’s a ruse, of course, and Lakshmi ends up in a brothel that lacks any hint of poverty or despair and has been art-designed to the nth degree. There, she’s raped and brutalized until Anderson’s kindhearted photographer spots her and sets the wheels of salvation in motion.
All the characters are broadly sketched, though well acted. Beyond that, the innate tension of the subject matter — and the shamelessly manipulated emotions — carries the film to its uplifting ending.
Directed by Jeffrey Brown
Opens April 1, Village East Cinema