The US State Department and the International Labour Organization estimate that 12.3 to 27 million people are trapped in modern day slavery. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes in its report in 2006 estimates that people are being trafficked from 127 countries to be trafficked to 137 countries. The income generated from this internationally illegal crime is difficult to determine, but estimates of the revenues in human trafficking are between 7 to 30 billion US$ per year.*
The human trafficking industry is a nauseating, evil establishment, and these statistics show that it’s a far bigger and more worldwide industry than we in the western world are comfortable with recognising. For most people it’s probably a far away problem in countries they may never go to. That it is so hidden to the Western public consciousness is part of what makes it such a lucrative and successful industry. So anything that can attract attention to such an issue is a worthwhile enterprise. That Isabel de Ocampo‘s Evelyn is also a powerful and affecting piece of cinema makes it especially important
Evelyn is so effective because it takes this global problem and reduces it to a very personal story. The eponymous girl (age not specified, probably a teen) lives with her family in South America, with a nagging mum who wants her to move to Spain, just like her cousin, and get a job there. When she’s promised a job in a café, she jumps at the chance of moving to Europe and earning enough to sustain her family. Dodgy contracts to do with money lent that she has to earn back only arouse faint suspicion, as she continues on towards her horrible fate. Evelyn is particularly effective when the tension mounts as it gradually dawns on her what her job actually is. Cindy Diaz, in the central role, is disconcertingly naturalistic, and plays it so convincingly that during the more uncomfortable scenes you have to remind yourself you are only watching a film.
In this sense the whole film is very convincing, as in spite of one or two more abstract flourishes (a couple of out of body experiences based on psychological research of trafficking victims, for instance) it looks and feels very real. This is partly thanks to a seedy, grimy aesthetic where the walls seem to crawl with filth and the customers moreso. But it’s also due to meticulous research by de Ocampo, who spoke with victims, policemen and even imprisoned pimps to get an understanding of how the business works. If this feels a little to close to home, then it should do. Evelyn is, at times, a gruelling watch but that is exactly what makes it so important.
*Statistics thanks to www.justiceandcare.org
Stay tuned to Front Row Reviews for an interview with the director, Isabel de Ocampo.