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Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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Canadian filmmaker Larysa Kondracki’s “The Whistleblower” (still seeking domestic distribution) had its world premiere this afternoon at the Elgin Theater as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, and was greeted with two standing ovations — one for the film, and one for the woman upon whose story it is based. A political-thriller, it delves into crime and corruption in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, and stars Rachel Weisz, one of the few big-name actresses who is able to instantly convey both the beauty and the intelligence that its central part demands.

Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac, an American policewoman whose attachment to her work cost her two marriages and now the custody of her young daughter, to whom she yearns to live closer. In order to finance a move, she accepts a temporary job with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia that will pay her $100,000 for just six months of work. What she finds there, though, is a global sex trafficking operation in which members of her own organization are active participants and enablers, prompting her—at a great risk to her own life—to fight relentlessly to help the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.

I can certainly envision the United Nations taking umbrage with such a film, but the truth is that it’s about time someone asked some tough questions about the organization through a medium that people actually pay attention to. As the film postulates, the U.N. is, in a number of significant ways, failing to carry out its original mission, and is, in some parts of the world, actually exacerbating the problems that it was created to help solve. If it can’t keep its own house in order, it’s hard to imagine how it can help anyone else. (Incidentally, I’d be very interested to hear reactions to the film from women foreign aid workers and diplomats, whose stories are rarely portrayed on the big screen, but who exist in large numbers and are represented by several characters—including one played by Vanessa Redgrave—in this film.)

If a decent distributor picks up this film and promotes it properly, it could certainly thrust Weisz into the thick of the best actress race. Studios would be well advised to remember that the last time she played a crusading woman who risks her life overseas for the sake of victimized locals, the film was “The Constant Gardener” (2005) and she won an Academy Award.

Photo: Rachel Weisz in “The Whistleblower.” Credit: ?.

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