Deadbeat and unreliable Stanko (Peter Kocan) gets another chance to fulfill a task - to find and deliver a girl (Ivana Kanalosova) from Slovakia to Italy where she will unknowingly live the life of a prostitute. The teener agrees to join Stanko's road trip believing he would take her to France where her mother works. Short on cash and trying to avoid local authorities, the odd couple navigate the briskly changing Eastern European landscape, occasionally hustling and plotting together to earn enough for petrol and food. Along the way, they forge a friendship that would put Stanko in a complicated, albeit moral dilemma: would he deliver the girl to the brothel or would he drive her to France?
Kocan wants to complete his task.
The story starts out slow, but it eventually draws and compels you to take the protagonists' journey with them. Throughout the ride, there's a lingering mood of threat and impending doom, despite occasional glimpses of amusement as Stanko and the unnamed girl forge a bond in their beat-up car. But the more urgent issue is human trafficking, a pervasive practice of coercive exploitation of vulnerable sectors of society. This mirrors the early practice of slavery and reminds its viewers that somehow, ordinary people have roles to play to end this prevalent phenomenon.
In Louise Shelley's "Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective", she points out that, "The conditions of the transitional societies created the ideal conditions conducive to trade in human beings. Now, years after initial transition, all forms of human trafficking are endemic in the region, a result of poverty, ineffective counter-measures, the frequent collusion of government officials in this trade, and the rise of criminal entrepreneurship." Particularly, trafficking of women from Slovakia is continuously growing. The country lacks job opportunities. Poor economic condition and labor migration have been on the rise especially among young people. This makes Rasto Boros' film a relevant piece of cinema that bravely tackles contemporary issues.
The strength of the film lies in the unexpected chemistry between Kocan and Kanalosova. While Kocan appears middle-aged, gaunt, unkempt and tawdry, Kanalosova flaunts youthfulness, hope and innocence. If these characteristics don't make strange, but ultimately provocative cinematic bedfellows, I don't know what would.
Forget the tentative conclusion. This, as Aristotle would remind us, is a case of the whole better than the sum of its parts.
"Stanko" was screened at the 19th Cine Europa in Shangrila, and is among the festival's best features in an otherwise lackluster, head-scratching line-up. Alain Cavalier's "Pater" (Father), anyone? That Pater was nominated for Cannes' Palme d'Or is the pinnacle of lunacy.