CARGA – movie review

Breaking Glass Pictures
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Bruno Gascon
Screenwriter:  Bruno Gascon
Cast: Michalina Olszanska, Vítor Norte, Rita Blanco, Sara Sampaio, Miguel Borges, Dmitry Bogomolov, ana Cirstina de Oliveira
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/1/19
Opens: TBD

You can tell the bad guys by their smoking.  And boy, does Viktor (Dmitri Bogomolov) smoke.  With cigarettes costing a half a buck each in the U.S., Viktor can easily afford this and get the best brand since, after all, he drives a Maserati.  Does he ever think of the moral consequences of heading a ring that traffics in human slavery?  That allows kidnapped girls to be raped up to eight times a day by what one of the women says will be by big, smelly guys?  Judging by what happens to Viktor in the final third of the story, there’s a hint that he did finally realize that he’s the bad guy; that in his youth, he probably rooted for James Bond over Le Chiffre, Hugo Drax, Rosa Klebb and Dr. Julius No.  But now he likes money and for most of the film he is bereft of most things that make a person ethical.

As for Viktoriya (Michalina Olszanska), she gets into trouble because she wants a better life.  She doesn’t smoke, so that’s not in her budget, but she probably would not mind having a Maserati. In fact she does get to drive that very car at one point though not with the permission of the owner.  To seek that better life she signs up with António (Vitor Norte), a fellow with a thick white beard and a shock of white hair and a look on his face throughout that shows he’s not too happy with his side job.  If he were in Central America he would be called a coyote, but here in Portugal, he makes extra bucks carrying illegal immigrants on the back of his truck from Eastern Europe to the Portuguese countryside, working for Viktor and the Russian fellow’s almost equally obnoxious sister Yulia (Kim Grygierzee).

Serving as Viktoriya’s mentor, Sveta (Ana Cristina Oliveira) asks her if she’s a virgin and instructs her how to do her job; how to pretend she likes the smelly men lest she get killed by Viktor—who already demonstrated his lack of scruples about killing by shooting a man accompanying Viktoriya on the truck without allowing him to reconsider when he refuses to hand over his passport.

With  lots of shots of violence—shooting, raping, saying hostile things to the victims, writer-director Bruno Gascon, in his freshman full-length feature (his twenty-minute short “Emptiness” notes that 340 million people in the world are depressed give or take a hundred million), ends his sordid tale as though it were a docudrama.  He warns in an epilogue that “this could be you,” as though such counsel will make us sympathize with those victims who are not “us” when we might otherwise not care.

“Carga” was filmed by JP Caldeano in six locations in Portugal, at once a thriller, psychological study, and a warning to all of us of the horror of world-wide sexual slavery, and perhaps even a subtle admonition not to smoke or you could morph into a bad guy—but on the other hand a bad guy who can afford a Maserati.

113 minutes.  © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B