Short Film - The Fare

On now at the HollyShorts Festival, Susan Omand watches the short film by Santiago Palandines, The Fare...

This short film, based on a true story of human trafficking in the US, aims to put human faces and human voices to both the captors and the captured but, more than that, it highlights a third voice – those forced to work for the trafficking kingpin who actually do the dirty work and commit the crimes.

Javier (Johnny Ortiz), a young Ecuadorian man, drives the van that takes illegal immigrants from the border to the “safe house” where they are held at gunpoint, forced to give up their shoes and passports and to give contact information for their families already in the US so the traffickers, headed up by Wellington (Eduardo Roman), can hold them to ransom for even more money than they have already paid to cross the border – the Fare. The latest load of people consists of mostly older men but there is one young girl, Christina (Noemi Pedraza) who is separated from the main group at the house. Wellington tells Javier that it is time to “become a man” and that it is his job now to take Christina to the brothel where she will be put to work as a prostitute while the traffickers try to get her family to pay more money to get her back. But first, Javier is made, at gun point, to “try her out.” He reluctantly does as he is told and then takes her to the brothel but, as he leaves, he hears her screaming and he turns back...

Written and directed by Santiago Palandines, the story pretty much manages to walk the line between sentiment and pathos, making you engage with the connection between Javier and the girl, both by understanding and rooting for their bond while, at the same time, realising the hopelessness of it. But I wasn’t prepared for the power of the twist that happens shortly after the brothel scene, it’s just heart-wrenching. To be honest the film could have, and maybe should have, stopped just after that twist as the maelstrom of emotions is stunning; anger, hurt, hate, love, futility, it’s all there in one tiny scene and the acting from Johnny Ortiz in conveying all of that is to be highly praised. So carrying the story on to what felt, to me, like a bit of a clichéd ending spoiled the overall effect.

There’s one more thing that really stood out for me with this film though and that is the music. With such an emotive and dramatic storyline one might have expected an elaborate soundtrack, full of soaring orchestral strings or heavy rock percussion which would have over-played the drama but no. A simple melody picked out on a single acoustic guitar is all the backing the film gets and the counterpoint of that traditional reminder of Javier and Christina’s South American homeland coupled with the implied brutality of the unfolding events is poignantly perfect.

It’s convenient for us to ”forget” that human trafficking exists. To not think about the people involved. To believe that it’s “only in the movies now and everything turns out OK in the end.” But it’s not OK and it’s still a very real thing. It’s in the Far East. It’s in America. It’s in Europe, in Britain. It’s in your town.

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