10 Songs for Charity (2021)
Directed by: Karin Junger | 114 minutes | drama, music | Actors: Ijeoma Grace Agu, Omoteniola Famodimu, Faith Yinkore, Said Boumazoughe, Sam Louwyck, La Baby Jacqueline Morales, Ashley Ntangu, Jeroen Perceval, Aza Declercq, Modou Blackson Beye
A musical about trafficking in women? Sexual exploitation is not the first thing you think of as a subject for a film in which people burst into song at the slightest thing. Yet Karin Junger manages to do this with ’10 Songs for Charity’, and she manages to make a good film out of it too. Perhaps this contrast is precisely the strength of the film.
Also opposite are the two Nigerian sisters Kemi (Ijeoma Grace Grace Agu) and Asa (Omoteniola Famodimu) about whom this Dutch/Belgian production is about. We get to know them when they say goodbye to their aunt in Lagos and after a humiliating ritual (in which fresh chicken blood is mixed with toenails and armpit and pubic hair) they drive to the airport in an expensive car. During the ride, the driver (who probably earns a lot from this ride) urges the duo to tell their ‘story’ convincingly. The ladies get a new identity: Charity and Happy. Charity is the eldest and dresses and acts sexy. She poses confidently in the selfies she takes. Happy seems especially happy that she can go with her sister.
Once in Belgium, they are taken care of by police officers Johan (Jeroen Perceval) and Marjolein (Aza Declercq), who warn them of the dangers of trafficking in women. But it’s too late: Charity is fully aware of what awaits her (and has agreed to the terms). That she drags her sister into this downward spiral of sex, violence and exploitation is unforgivable. But do the sisters have a fair chance to make something different of their lives? The ‘debt’ owed to the people who have ensured that they get a foothold in Europe in the first place is no less than sixty thousand euros (per person). They earn twenty euros per customer, says Madam Dolores, who runs the illegal brothel with an iron hand (and once started as a Charity of Happy herself).
The sequel is guessable. Charity lives up to Dolores’ expectations, while Happy more than reluctantly finishes her clients. No wonder, the poor girl has never had a boyfriend, so every sexual act she does for the first time. In addition, she has a completely different future in mind: she wants to go to school. Charity slips into her new role with ease, dancing, seducing and showing off her body like never before. But the unrest between the sisters is increasing and with it the danger that Happy will be sent to Italy, “where they are not very nice to prostitutes”. Meanwhile, ’10 Songs for Charity’ also shows fragments of the lives of the prostitutes who have been working for Madam Dolores for some time.
Occasionally ’10 Songs for Charity’ is a bit off balance, if the focus is sidetracked for too long. It also sometimes feels strange to watch dancing and singing women, for example if someone has just jumped from the roof to commit suicide. But in general, the songs reinforce the message and give the heavy story the necessary breathing space.