This is a must-watch Australian film dealing with the sex trafficking industry which is alive and well in this country. The Jammed is directed by Dee McLachlan who wanted to make a film about this illegal industry after she read a newspaper article about it. A newspaper article which was relegated to page seven - that would be waaayy after the football, folks!
The film opens with an event that plunges the viewer right into the near present. If I think about what Keith Thompson said at the Melbourne Writers' Festival about creating 'grace' at the beginning of the film, that's happened here. We're immediately in a frightening world - made more frightening by it's familiarity. This is Melbourne we're seeing - trams, cafe-goers in Lygon Street, the beautiful old trees that line our streets - but we are watching someone who is intensely vulnerable go out on a limb - for what? We don't yet know.
In a series of flash backs, intersecting with the present from one character's viewpoint, the narrative slowly catches up to the now as the stories of three women who have been sold into sex slavery and forced to work as prostitutes in Australia in order to pay off the 'debts' of their importation.
The central uniting figure in this is a young Australian insurance clerk who gets unwillingly caught up in this world due to a chance encounter with the mother of one of the girls. Ashley is the reluctant, but innocent, good samaritan. In the early stages of her involvement she represents the average viewer. Her character's growth throughout the film draws the viewer in and provides an interesting counterpoint, too, against the increasing cynicism, resignation and despair of the three prostitutes.
The script is written as a thriller - not as a documentary - and this, for me, was a significant difference between The Jammed and Lilya 4-Ever, a movie set in Russia and made by Swedish director, Lukas Moodysson. The latter rejects the shape of fictional film and assumes the shape of a drama-docco - until the end, of course. There's a sense of pre-determined relentless hopelessness about Lilya 4-Ever. Perhaps I'm wrong to say that has the shape of a docco - but what is so different about The Jammed is the fact that it allows other subplots to develop - thus keeping this from being a didactic psuedo documentary which could command political, but not as much artistic, respect.
Instead, what you get is a thriller - as Ashley becomes more embroiled at the fate of the three young women, so do we. We are appalled at her foolish bravery - as is her ex-boyfriend, whom she involves. When things go badly wrong, we mourn with her - and carry some of her guilt. Little by little her own history emerges - the breakup with Tom, the truth about her father...and we begin to understand her a little better.
The film has been very well researched. It's a shame that a little more of this didn't really play a larger part - the brothel owner's character, for example, and his manouverings could have received closer attention. His wife's role in the brothel, as title-holder of the property, was busted by the industrious Ashley. This is common - but maybe to make that point would have over-balanced the film into something more didactic.
The criminals weren't only ruthless - they were also bungling, stupid, vindictative, brutal and sometimes, suprisingly, yearned for something more from their lives. Fook's infatuation with Rubi was both real and surreal.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie, for me, was when the minders, Fook and Baldie took the three girls down to St Kilda and the girls were allowed five minutes of freedom on the beach.
Five minutes to splash in the Port Phillip Bay.
Good movie. It gets four stars from me - but go and see it for yourself. (Though not a night when you want a bit of froth and bubble!)