Award-winning Austrian movie about trafficking at Göteborg´s Film Festival

RealStars guest blogger Robert Schenk reviews the new film Joy which attended Göteborgs film festival. The movie is based on thorough research to give a believable depiction of trafficking to Europe from West Africa, but it would have been a stronger message if the causes were clarified – the requests in the west and the purchasers of sex responsibility in the prostitution industry.  

Direction och script: Sudabeh Mortezai

Produced by: FreibeuterFilm, Vienna, Austria

Göteborgs film festival, february 2019

Movie review by Robert Schenck

The main character Joy is played by her namesake Joy Alphonsus, a trafficked female victim of prostitution in Austria. Alphonsus, just like all others participating in the film is not a professional actress, but she does an exceptional effort. Director Sudabeh Mortezai, who is Austrian with Iranian heritage, specifically chose to work with non-professional actors. This fact, together with her method of letting the actors improvise their lines from scene to scene without knowing how the manuscript will continue, gives the movie its spontaneous and believable character.

The abominable situation that the trafficked women find themselves in is very clear. Not only are they forced into prostitution in Europe, but they are also victims for a west African voodoo-cult that makes them terrified to expose their “madames”, cooperate with the police, or in any way escape their destiny. Likewise to other African women in prostitution in Sweden. The women are captives and slaves and are in one scene sold as goods to brothel madames in a clandestine market.

I feel melancholic when I leave the film. During a little over 90 minutes, I have been a part of the prostituted women’s misery. There is no hope for the future of the victims. This is a film about women that shows how the victims eventually become “madames” themselves. And what choice do they have, if they against all odds manages to quit prostitution and wants to stay in Europe?

The men do not play any prominent part in the movie. Surely there are some scenes with loathsome men who purchase sex and also one with two African men that with the help of violence and rape make sure the madame’s rules are complied with. However, with the focus on the women, the purchaser of sex gets away to easily. It is the European buyers of sex that creates the market for prostitution and carries the heaviest blame for trafficking. Furthermore, the total physical and psychological traumatizing that prostitution entails for the affected women do not appear. Sudabeh Mortezai did careful research to do a believable portrait of the trafficking from West Africa to Europe, but the film should have been more accomplished if she had a clearer view of the prostitution connection and causes in the west.

Link to an interview with Sudabeh Mortezai: