Directed by Larysa Kondracki. Starring Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave, David Straithairn.
Inspired by a true story that probably is even darker and more blood curdling than that depicted in The Whistleblower, this film is serious stuff. Looking at human trafficking and one woman’s quest to stop ‘peace-keepers’ from raping and brutalising women in late 90s Bosnia, it is predictable in its plot but still keeps you immersed in the darkness of human nature is exposes.
Our hero Kathryn Bolkovac (Oscar winner Weisz) is an American cop who loses her daughter to her ex-husband and in an effort to relocate close to her child takes up a decidedly unusual but lucrative job. That of a UN contracted peacekeeper in Bosnia after the war in the 90s. In little time she becomes head of the Gender Affairs cell of the UN there – which basically means she is in charge of crimes against women, a surprisingly overlooked area in a male-dominated society there.
We hear about soldiers killed in ‘friendly fire’, about ‘alliance’ or ‘coalition’ forces engaged in acts of brutality against the people they have been brought in to protect. But there’s another insidious secret that lurks beneath the façade of ‘democratic’ policing. Men will be men and even UN peacekeepers need sex. So they allow the locals to resort to trafficking, which is basically bringing girls (or even men for labour) from one country into another for purposes of prostitution and other nefarious activities. Kathryn gradually pieces together what’s happening (strange that no one else did before her though), and in the bargain implicates several high-ranking officials in the UN and military.
The sordid conditions in which the girls live, the brutality meted out to them in punishment if they ever decided to ‘talk’ or run without repaying their debt, the lawlessness amidst apparent for-show-law, the struggle of this one woman against an army of heartless drones habituated to looking the other way, not a moment in this film is light-hearted. Weisz gives a deep and heartfelt performance, sometimes helpless, at other times tough as nails.
This isn’t a film you’d go to watch for a fun evening out. Yes you may say it’s a tad unsurprising in its finale; you can almost feel the end titles with the ‘messages about the protagonists and the social effects of human trafficking’ looming large. They do come, but that doesn’t make what you saw before any less hard-hitting, distressing or excusable. The Whistleblower is a well-made, touching, disturbing and still-relevant film (CNN was recently doing a whole series on the subject).