[SFF 2012: Review] Captive
The monotony of life as a long-term hostage is so well conveyed in Brillante Mendoza’s Captive that you feel like the film has taken you hostage as well. That’s an admirable achievement in verite, but it doesn’t boost the entertainment value of the Philippino/French co-production, a dramatisation of the Dos Palmas hostage crisis that took place in the southern Philippines in 2001.
The real-life incident involved the kidnapping of 20 tourists and Christian missionaries from a Palawan Island resort by members of Islamist separatist group Abu Sayyaf. It ended with numerous deaths on both sides before government forces finally overwhelmed the separatists more than a year later.
The film focalises the action from the perspective of French hostage Therese Bourgoine (Isabelle Huppert), a missionary whose Christian faith is as one-eyed as her Muslim kidnappers are fanatical. Perhaps Mendoza draws this parallel to make a point about the universal folly of religion, but the effect is that we have no one to root for. And we want one, dammit, because we’re not watching the History Channel!
A scene-by-scene breakdown might read: “Kidnappers try to enforce Islamic law on unwilling Christian hostages. Gunfire interrupts argument and everyone runs around screaming, attracting stray bullets instead of sensibly lying on the ground. Repeat for two hours.” Bourgoine’s tactics for surviving this Jihadi Groundhog Day mainly involve shouting “No! No!”, and shovelling dry provisions into her mouth without blinking.
Frustratingly, the film is packed with unrealised potential. The comparison between Moslem and Christian dogma teeters on the satirical, but keeps pulling back at the last minute. Yet it is funny – especially when one realises that Christian mantras like the Lord’s Prayer are as useless as shouting “Allah akbar” and waving your M-16 in the air whenever you’re at a loose end.
There’s also a naivety about the separatists that a more fictional piece might have explored more deeply. When a Muslim kidnapper gives a bemused Huppert his machine-gun to hold while he shows her how to wash without revealing her bare skin, the effect is as surreal as anything from Chris Morris’s Four Lions. And there’s oedipal subtext galore in a scene in which Huppert and a separatist child soldier discuss their new year’s eve plans before snuggling down for a communal afternoon siesta. If there had been more of this kind of ambiguity, Captive would have been a less factual film, but a more entertaining one.