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FILMS Portugal

Review: Carga

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- Portuguese director Bruno Gaston tackles human trafficking in a violent feature debut that brings together an international cast

Review: Carga
Rita Blanco in Carga

“It could be you.” This sentence, displayed during one of the last frames of Bruno Gaston’s Carga [+see also:
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, which is out now in Portuguese cinemas, is meant to warn the audience that they too could become victims of human trafficking. What if the alarming phrase was transformed into a question: “Could it be you?” It would certainly be less sentimental and substantially more complex, and it would also suit the film better… It would evoke not the role of the victim, but rather your potential role as an accomplice to such crimes. You, a moviegoer, a respectful citizen who, in a moment of financial hardship, could perhaps agree – or not – to get involved in such a scheme.

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That’s what happens to António (Vítor Norte), a Catholic driver who carries illegal immigrants on the back of his truck from Eastern Europe to the Portuguese countryside. Men and women have paid for a new life in the West, but things inevitably start to go wrong. Men get killed, and women end up being raped and embroiled in prostitution schemes organised by a repulsive Russian chef (Dmitry Bogomolov) and his no-less-repulsive sister (Kim Grygierzec). Among them is a young woman, Viktoriya (Michalina Olszanska), who refuses to be a victim. There is not a shred of female empowerment in her refusal, as her lines seem to imply at the end of the film; it is pure, life-affirming instinct.

For his feature debut, Gaston chose to focus on these delicate themes and shoot them like a thriller, rather than as a psychological drama. As a result, Carga’s character is lacking in depth. The film tends to be rather graphic in its approach to violence, but unfortunately, it is also rather hesitant when it comes to exploring the motivations of the supporting characters who, from a certain point onwards, begin to rebel. Norte’s character demonstrates this choice perfectly. We understand part of his background and we know his family is under threat, but the full complexity of his moral dilemmas is boiled down to a tiny number of scenes. On the contrary, there are many violent sequences marred by an omnipresent soundtrack that exasperatingly reinforces a tension that is already inherently present due to the very nature of the plot.

Absent from Portuguese cinema since playing the lead character in João Pedro Rodrigues’ Two Drifters [+see also:
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film profile
]
 (2005), Ana Cristina Oliveira stands out particularly among the supporting characters. She plays a woman who instructs one of the girls (model-turned-actress Sara Sampaio) on how to behave with the clients. It is the latter’s suicide that triggers a series of unexpected – and obviously violent – events.

In a dark film where there is very little room for compassion, only one character is capable of brightening up the plot: António’s wife. Rita Blanco excels once again in her role as a generous, simple woman – certainly a variation on the portraits of working-class characters that she has played several times before, but here she is utterly moving and undeniably impressive. When Viktoriya escapes and the whole gang’s scheme begins to crumble, she ends up by chance at António’s home – where else? – being fed and looked after by his big-hearted wife. The confrontation between the victim and the driver is inevitable – and tragic.

Carga was produced by Caracol Studios, and France’s Wide Management is handling the international sales. The film has recently been bought by Breaking Glass Pictures for theatrical distribution in the United States.

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