Captive in the heart of darkness
by Bénédicte Prot
13/02/2012 - Filipino director Brillante Mendoza is not known for doing anything half-heartedly. We all remember the dread with which we welcomed his film Kinatay [trailer] (2009) and his award for best director in Cannes from the jury presided by Isabelle Huppert. This great director of crime and violence known for the brutality of his images and editing in back with Captive [trailer, film focus], a Euro-Filipino production in competition at the Berlinale, starring Huppert herself as a Christian missionary called Thérèse.
Yet this film, clearly inspired by a kidnapping for ransom organised 11 years ago by Filipino Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, takes a certain time to take on all its meaning. This seems paradoxal as the new film of this award-winning director opens with a vertiginous succession of images of chaos, cries of panic, and close-ups, all accompagnied by deafening sputterings thrown, like the images, in the audience’s face. But you have to have stayed deep in the jungle for a long time and have been repeatedly aggressed in this way to even begin to understand what the hostages that inspired this film lived through, or indeed what they still live through as the victims of what has become a lucrative activity in the country.
You have to have been manhandled and almost physically feel the hostility of the jungle with its leeches, hornets, and other thousand threats, the blinding cruelty of the extremist kidnappers, and the selfishness of a Filipino governemnt more concerned with killing its opponents than saving hostages, to even start to comprehend the complete despair of these foreigners, mostly missionaries, and of local nurses who find themselves hunted despite their prayers, negotiations, and imprecations. When after hundreds of days of horror, a television team from Manila comes to interview them, but not to save them, you cannot help but have a knot in your throat faced as you witness the testimony of their despair and feeling of abandon, like when Isabelle Huppert’s character, almost completely broken, explains in a breath that it is nerver-ending, that “it’s long.”
Only then do all the ramifications of what has been playing out in front of our eyes since the beginning start to unravel. We see the child riddled with scars whose family has died and who thinks that using his weapon will lead him to paradise. We see the kidnappers mocking the implorations of those they have just executed, the hostage who defends them because they are “only defending their country,” women who suddenly have to choose between death or rape, the doctor who wraps a scarf around his head like a Muslim...
Beyond the contradictions in the barbarous ideologies at the root of it all, we see the contradictions of cohabitation. The kidnappers use inept tokens of politeness on the phone when they receive the confirmation of a large bank transfer, even citing the Geneva convention and politely thanking the locals for their hospitality. The hostages teach school children the alphabet while the kidnappers point their guns at them. Thérèse is worried about the eardrums of the child soldier when he uses his firearm, then lets him sleep on her lap...
In the end, we cannot help but find it extremely poignant that such a merciless film can also be so rich in nuances.
(Translated from French)