A young woman seeking a new life outside Russia ends up a victim of the white slave trade in Teresa Villaverde's slow-flowing, enigmatic "Trance." But at a two-hour-plus running time, only the most stout-hearted fans of cold-blooded art cinema will stick around to find out how much misery awaits the unwary and not too bright heroine.

A young woman seeking a new life outside Russia ends up a victim of the white slave trade in Teresa Villaverde’s slow-flowing, enigmatic “Trance.” The horror story that Luke Moodysson told with such realistic force in “Lilja 4-Ever” is abstracted here into a pure mood piece driven by hypnotic cinematography and young Portuguese thesp Ana Moreira’s relentlessly anguished perf. But at a two-hour-plus running time, only the most stout-hearted fans of cold-blooded art cinema will stick around to find out how much misery awaits the unwary and not too bright heroine.

Kissing her little boy and boyfriend goodbye, pretty Sonia (Moreira) takes off “to become rich.” She is abducted almost immediately and passed from hand to hand, driven through fabulous Russian forests and sold again. Resurfacing in a low-life Italian brothel, she reacts with rebellious passivity to her handlers. When she is bought by a rich man as a sex slave for his handicapped son, Sonia finally makes a bid for freedom before ending up in Portugal, a human ruin.

Villaverde’s story, which cycles through the co-producingcountries, is gossamer thin, and the lack of dialogue and connecting narrative don’t help the credibility. Nor is there much emotion to be had here, apart from awe at Joao Ribiero’s expressive modern lensing. Striking images elegantly tell the story, like Sonia being carried into a bathtub naked by a tall blond stranger (Viktor Rakov) who then almost apologetically rapes her.

One wonders why it was necessary to stretch this fine visual material with a maddeningly slow pace, which closes the film off in a cold artiness. The next question is whether beautifully composed visuals and a tastefully elliptical shooting style, aesthetically pleasing as they are, are really the way to handle such painful subject matter.

Distance is the key word in directing the actors. Moreira, who starred in Villaverde’s “The Mutants,” makes a striking victim, but her psychology, if it exists, is impenetrable beyond a constant glaze of suffering. A rare human moment is afforded in a wild and strangely poignant scene with actress Iaia Forte playing a crazed Italian hooker.

Trance

Portugal-France-Italy

Production

A Clap Filmes (Portugal)/Gemini Films (France)/Revolver (Italy) co-production in association with Hermitage Bridge Studio (Russia). (International sales: Madragoa Filmes, Lisbon.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed, written by Teresa Villaverde.

Crew

Camera (color), Joao Ribeiro; editor, Andree Davanture; production designer, Ze Branco; costume designer, Silvia Grabowski; sound (Dolby SRD), Muriel Damain, Vasco Pimentel, Joel Rangon. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 23, 2006. Running time: 126 MIN.

Cast

With: Ana Moreira, Viktor Rakov, Robinson Stevenin, Iaia Forte, Andrey Chadov, Filippo Timi, Dinara Droukarova. (Russian, German, Italian, Portuguese dialogue)

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