A 9-year-old boy is the innocent pawn at the center of "All God's Children," an awkward mix of B-movie crime saga and social-issue drama. Zeroing in on the sadly familiar subject of human trafficking, Moldova's first entry for Academy Award consideration plays out as a well-meaning lesson grafted onto talky action.
A number of opposing interests converge around Pavalas, who has been living in an orphanage for three years: his mother, Irina (Ina Surdu), escaping a life of forced prostitution in Italy; her bent-on-revenge pimp (Paolo Seganti); a Canadian couple (Aliona Turcanu and Michael Ironside) who want to adopt the boy; and the headmistress who's less interested in her charge's welfare than in who might be the highest bidder.
Between the heavy-handed lines, director Adrian Popovici provides telling glimpses of a provincial, aggressively retrograde attitude toward women and the seedy nightclubs where they're preyed on. He elicits uneven performances from a cast working in several languages. The strongest work is that of Rodica Oanta, as Irina's tough, skeptical friend. Her road-trip encounter with a defector expresses a pervasive hopelessness more potently than anything else in the movie, even with its focus on the everyday horror of children as black-market chattel.
The film might have benefited from a tighter focus on the two women. Instead it places Ironside's character on the receiving end of mini-lectures and tips from an Interpol agent who arrives just in the nick of time. Voiceover overkill doesn't help, and an eleventh-hour twist is more non sequitur than emotional punch.
"All God's Children." No MPAA rating. In English, Italian and Romanian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. At Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.
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