Captive | Berlin Film Festival 2012
Filipino film director Brillante Mendoza (who won the best director award in Cannes ´09 for Kinatay) brings to Berlinale his ninth feature. The French-Philippine drama Captive is based on true events and stars legendary French independent actress Isabelle Huppert. Captive is one of the official competition films.
A group of twelve people are kidnapped from a hotel on an island resort by armed Islamic separatists belonging to the Muslim Abu Sayyaf group. They are taken on a journey across the sea and high into mountain jungles, where they are held captive for over a year, all the while dodging frequent attacks by the Filipino army and coping with the trials of nature. The captives were supposed to be employees of the World Bank, but as it turns out they are just a group of tourists whose governments are reluctant to pay ransoms for.
Over the course of the film, the climate of fear, prejudice and hatred between the kidnappers and the kidnapped evolves into a strange, symbolic relationship, where contours of cultural differences begin to blur and a certain understanding of each other´s condition – and even respect – develops.
The film assumes a very difficult task, which is to represent conflicting attitudes of Islamic fundamentalists and Christians, of captors and victims in as much faithfulness to both sides as possible. This is why documentary shaky-camera aesthetics of events observed in real time is chosen. In this film, Isabelle is little more than a silent symbol of such observation, allowing us access to the story rather than participating herself, muttering only a couple of occasional phrases in English (which does seem like a language out of her comfort zone) and screaming with fright the rest of the time. In fact, for the best part of the movie it appears that firing guns and screaming captives is all the audience will remember after watching it, and Captive will not rise above a simple re-enactment and action drama clichés.
However, the payoff is gradually delivered as the journey into the mountains continues, and we begin to realise together with the captives that they will not simply be saved by “good guys with guns” all of a sudden. There will not be any long-awaited easy resolution – this bizarre situation will continue, slowly revealing the underlying humanity of both fundamentalists and the tourists, meshing them together into a model of micro-society where everyone´s beliefs can change over time. Reasons for the differences among beliefs in the first place can then be contemplated.
Captive is a slow burner – its meaning finds us right after we stop looking for it. It does not take sides or judge fundamentalism. On the contrary – it asks whether it is possible to understand its point of view. This is the first movie that looks at Arabic-Catholic conflict with such subtlety, depth and even a healthy touch of irony, making an effort to give terrorists voice and (to a certain degree) objective representation. With beautiful cinematography which makes the best use of exotic surroundings on top of all that, Captive for other competition films is definitely one of the strongest contestants to behold.