All God's Children: Film Review

An overly melodramatic approach lessens the impact of this socially-conscious crime drama.

Moldova's first contender for the foreign film Oscar is a violent tale about human trafficking.

Dramas centering on the evils of human trafficking have become an all too familiar cinematic staple in recent years, with All God’s Children being but the latest example. Combining its potent social message with heavy doses of violent melodrama, Moldova’s first official selection for the foreign language film Oscar is ultimately too cliché-ridden to take seriously, even if it features some gripping moments along the way.

As the film begins, we are introduced to nine-year-old Pavalas (Emergian Cazac), who has been living in an orphanage for three years after his mother Irina (Ina Surdu) failed to return home after a trip to Italy where she was forced into prostitution. She eventually makes her escape and, accompanied by her friend Tatiana (Rodica Oantsa), returns to Moldova in a desperate effort to find her son while being relentlessly pursued by her vengeful former pimp Bruno (Paolo Seganti).

Meanwhile, a Canadian couple (Alina Turcanu, Michael Ironside) who have recently lost their son in a car accident, take a shine to Pavalas and begin the process of adopting him. The stories intersect when Bruno takes the young boy hostage, telling Irina that unless she returns the money he’s invested in her that he’ll sell him to a child prostitution ring. Other figures getting involved along the way include corrupt police officials and an Interpol agent who delivers informational lectures about the prevalence of international human trafficking.

Director Adrian Popovici evocatively depicts the seamy underbelly of Moldavian society, taking particular interest in its strip clubs. The sordid goings-on mesh uneasily with the film’s weighty themes, with the results, including an over-the-top violent climax, more closely resembling a sordid crime drama than a serious exploration into its subject matter.

Still, the proceedings are largely engrossing and the performances are mostly excellent, with especially strong turns by the female leads. Veteran character actor Michael Ironside delivers his usual solid work, even if his presence amidst the otherwise unfamiliar cast members is a bit distracting.

It seems unlikely that All God’s Children will make the final Oscar cut. But it does represent a respectable effort from a country making its initial plunge into the highly competitive fray.

Opens Nov. 22 (Artis Film Romania)
Cast: Ina Surdu, Rodica Oanta, Alina Turcanu, Michael Ironside, Emergian Cazac, Paolo Seganti, Vas Blackwood, Ion Beregoi
Director: Adrian Popovici
Screenwriters: Adrian Popovici, Valeriu Turcanu, Pascal Ilie Virgil

Producers: Cornelia Palos, Adrian Popovici, Veaceslav Cebotari
Executive producers: Cornelia Palos, David Ginsberg, Alexandru Cebotari
Director of photography: Veaceslav Cebotari
Editors: Veaceslav Cebotari, Adrian Popovici
Production designer/costume designer: Eugen Reabenchi
Composers: Vladimir Cnejevici, Adrian Popovici
Not rated, 101 min.