One Day, Redemption Will Arrive

This review courtesy of Jeremy Brown.

Each year, after a weekend packed with documentary films at the True/False Film Festival, I find that the film that impacted me most is always a surprise. It’s never the film that I was most excited about before the festival; it’s almost always the quiet film hidden in the craziness of the weekend that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s the gut punch that I wasn’t ready for, the film that made me catch my breath by exposing me to subject matter that either I just didn’t have time to care about or didn’t want to face.

This year was no different. The 31-minute short film “One Day” was tucked into a showcase of five short films about love and loss entitled “To Have and To Hold,” a last-minute pick for my schedule. Director Ditte Haarloev Johnsen takes us into the tragic world of a 36-year old prostitute in Copenhagen who has left her daughter in the care of her sister in Ghana while she earns a living and sends money home. The director’s use of juxtaposition exposes us to the inherent contradictions of such a life and reminds us of the dichotomy of sin and grace that divides our own souls, as well as the reality of living in a fallen world that groans for redemption.

There are two types of scenes in the film—the grainy security camera footage of “customers” coming and going from a prostitute’s apartment and oversaturated, extreme close up shots of a mother calling home to maintain a tenuous connection with her daughter. These are the most powerful moments, when the contradiction of her two lives is most apparent. The same lips that we watch speaking words of comfort and longing to her daughter also answer the “business” phone and answer questions from customers about what she will and won’t do—and for how much money. While never letting us forget the brutal realties of her situation, the film avoids visually explicit images. However, the close ups and oversaturation force us to share her sense of imprisonment and suffocation. It’s hard to see her face throughout most of the film; rather, we continually watch her heavily made up lips as she talks on the phone and chain smokes. Her phone conversations about rent, her daughter’s schooling, and other everyday, domestic affairs are set against the raw, blunt questions of her profession. For example, in one heartrending scene, the time on her phone card runs out while she is having a difficult conversation with her sister, she sits on the bed crying quietly for a few minutes, then the business phone rings, and she coldly answers questions from yet another customer.

Another poignant scene in the film is the woman’s moment of prayer. Down on her knees, we watch the same lips utter painful, conflicted pleas for forgiveness for her sins, a helpless realization that she will probably continue to commit them, and a plea for deliverance. “God, forgive us for these things we have to do, and give us a better way,” she prays. She seems to be praying not only for herself, but for the other women in her situation, and ultimately, for all of us. Scenes like this one silence thoughts of condemnation against the woman. Instead, I was reminded of a man who once asked a woman who was about to be stoned, “Woman, where are they? Who has condemned you?” and then held out his hand offering redemption.

The film ends with the only full length shot of the woman as she dances in front of a mirror, reenacting what I assume could be a traditional dance from her childhood. Here we see the contradiction of her life, the memory of who she was and who she hopes to be contrasted against who she has become. Here we see a woman—and ourselves—in desperate need of redemption, waiting and groaning for someone who will one day set things right and deliver our conflicted, contradictory souls from the imprisonment of our own brokenness. This is True/False at its best, when it enables us to step outside of our own lives and into the lives of others—to recognize ourselves in their brokenness and join in their hope that one day, redemption will arrive.

A side note: another film at True/False dealt with prostitution. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see “Very Young Girls,” a film that documents the plight of teenaged prostitutes in New York City and an organization that is trying to save them (Girls Education and Mentoring Service). This film was the recipient of the True Life Fund, a fund that offers tangible and meaningful assistance to the real-life subjects of a new film. For more information visit www.truefalse.org/program/truelife.htm or www.gems-girls.org.

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