The Trader

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
The Trader Movie Poster Image
Grim docu about rural poverty is emotionally intense.
  • PG
  • 2018
  • 23 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Poverty is soul-crushing and ambition-destroying.

Positive role models & representations

Wretchedly poor villagers from remote outposts of the Republic of Georgia do their best to sustain themselves with subsistence farming.

Violence
Sex
Language

"Hell."

Consumerism

The movie is about commerce and poverty in a place where having a van and petrol is the difference between abject poverty and getting by. The trader stands by his van in a poor village, blowing bubbles and attracting thrilled small children. "Where are your parents?" he asks them, encouraging them to bring to him the grownups with goods to trade.
 

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Trader is a Georgian public broadcasting short documentary that follows a traveling trader as he collects used items in the big city and then hawks them to the wretchedly poor in rural, potato-growing regions in exchange for spuds that he will sell elsewhere at a profit. Adults smoke cigarettes. "Hell" is spoken. The subject of extreme poverty may be disturbing to young or sensitive kids.

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What's the story?

THE TRADER is a Sundance Festival prize-winning, 23-minute documentary about poverty in the remote rural regions of the desolate Republic of Georgia countryside. A heavyset, unshaven entrepreneur makes his living by buying used clothing and other items in Tbilisi, Georgia's biggest city, then driving his beat-up van to poor villages. He tries to sell the goods in exchange for kilos of potatoes, the only asset the villagers have. A toothless, limping older woman begs him to give her a grater that she covets, either as a present or for one lari, Georgian currency equivalent to around forty U.S. cents. She tells him the five kilos of potatoes he's asking is too expensive. "What's wrong with you?" she complains. "I'm old, alone, I have no one." He turns her down. This primitive economy is founded on the villagers doing the back-breaking, tedious work of harvesting potatoes. The implication is that potatoes are a mainstay of their diets. Villagers stoop in the soil to collect the dirty brown ovals that sustain them. According to Georgian statistics, most Georgian farmers have only enough to feed their own families. Obesity is clearly not a problem in these villages. Without narration or explanation, the camera records aching poverty, rusted out cars, pot-holed or unpaved roads. Authenticity and reality are the goal. In a small home lined with peeling walls, a painfully shy young boy can't find the courage or the words to answer the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The message is clear: no ambition can exist in this soul-crushing deprivation. These people have no way out. When children survey the goods laid out in the van, their faces display astonishment and awe, as if they'd never seen such stuff before. It often feels as if the trader is a kind of evil tempter, trying to part needy villagers from their sustaining potatoes so he can sell them for more elsewhere.

Is it any good?

This is an earnest, slice-of-wretched life uninterrupted by biased narrative or point-of-view-laced commentary. Filmmaker Tamta Gabrichidze presents the grim reality of the Republic of Georgia's rural poor as she finds it. At the brief movie's end, the trader returns to Tbilisi to sell his potatoes and play some cards at the market. He reports that he wasn't satisfied with his trip and its outcome because it took him two days to sell his potatoes instead of one. The filmmaker says nothing, but it's hard not to recognize that however disappointing his outing, he still enjoys enormous advantages over the villagers he left behind to their solitude and struggle. We learn he's going back tomorrow with more second-hand clothes, and other items, "everything that is easily exchangeable," as he describes his offerings.  The Trader ends as he begins the cycle again.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way that The Trader  shows the limited prospects of the rural poor in this isolated part of the world. One older man laments his broken dream of going to university. Do you think education has the potential to lift people out of poverty? Why or why not?

  • When a small boy is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, why do you think he can't answer?

  • The trader brings goods to remote villages that the villagers rarely see. Do you think he's doing them a service or exploiting them? Wouldn't the villagers make more money if they sold the potatoes themselves for more money? How does poverty keep them from doing this?

Movie details

For kids who love documentaries

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