Cannes Review: The Chosen Ones

A film about a 14 year old girl forced into prostitution demands to be handled with sensitivity. With The Chosen Ones, Mexican director David Pablos succeeds by not sensationalising his story, showing restraint in his depictions of the sex and violence in the screenplay. At the same time, viewers may feel that they have been let off too easily by the end of what should have been a far more hard hitting drama.

The Chosen Ones follows young couple Ulises and Sofia who are clearly smitten with each other as the films opens. Ulises has been tasked by his father and brother with finding a girl who can be lured in with the promise of a loving relationship, then effectively kidnapped and forced into prostitution. But Ulises has fallen for Sofia and tries to get her out before his family can get hold of her. Despite his attempts to flee, he fails and so begins Sofia’s horrific ordeal in a house full of prostitutes in similar circumstances. Meanwhile, Ulises must find a replacement girl if he ever wants to gain Sofia her freedom back.

The Chosen Ones instantly reminds of Larry Clark’s Kids with its opening scene observing young actors at their most intimate. The nervous talk of losing virginity and the air of young love soon gives way to the disturbing mentality of Ulises’ older brother. He talks of brainwashing girls and details how to make young women fall in love and do anything that is asked of them. His influence over Ulises is harmful and things get worse when Sofia is taken to meet the rest of Ulises’ family.

The Kids vibe extends throughout the film with Pablos’ images rooted in realism. From the performances to the production design, The Chosen Ones feels very often like a documentary highlighting a huge social problem. Pablos mostly refrains from demonising or judging the characters, though in one memorable scene he has the men who visit Sophia line up one after the other as his camera glares at their naked top halves. With the sounds of Sophia’s stifled cries and the hard slapping of bodies during sex filling the soundtrack, it is a memorable scene of sickening torment. It leaves plenty to the imagination, but also lets the viewer off without fully facing this horror.

It is clear from the start that there can be no happy ending for The Chosen Ones. Sofia will forever be haunted by her experience if Ulises ever gets her out, and another girl will be forced to endure the same horrors if he succeeds. Pablos soberly examines this cycle of social evils, only briefly offering anything that resembles a glimmer of hope. The corruption of the police and the disgusting attitudes that allow these practices to continue are alluded to, but mostly the focus is fixed on the hopelessness of Ulises and Sofia’s situation.

They are both victims here, even if Ulises is a terrible part of the cycle that brings new girls into prostitution. This circularity is emphasised by Pablos restaging a key scene that takes place with Ulises introducing both Sofia and then later in the film, his next victim to his family. The charade they go through could almost be funny if the consequences of their actions was not so thoroughly disturbing. The urban squalor that surrounds them and the infrequent references to escaping to America remind of the social context that produces such situations.

The Chosen Ones tackles the problem of forced prostitution in a gritty and wholly convincing manner. While it has some stylised moments, the majority of the film is steeped in realism and a depressing sense of inevitability. While showing admirable restraint, Pablos neglects to make his film as vital, angry and disturbing as a film about this subject matter should be.

About the Author

Peter Turner Senior Reporter & Critic for Tastic Film Magazine.

Posted in Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Reviews 2015, Festivals, Movies, Reviews