Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Shot with a verite flair, using real locations and a largely unprofessional cast, Captive launches the viewer into the midst of an intense journey that charts, in fragments, the grinding months following an abduction gone wrong. The air of uncertainty and tension never lets up. Viewers rarely know any more than the captives, we are hostages with them. The focus is not on the armies or politicians that are called on to end these crises.

It is dawn in the Philippine islands, and we see a group of armed Islamic seperatists from the Muslim Abu Sayyaf group (who are fighting for the independence of Muslim Mindanao) raiding a hotel on an island resort. They kidnap 12 foreign guests and various Phillipine staff and relatives/partners of the foreigners. It soon becomes clear aboard the kidnappers' ship that the abductees are hardly golden ransom material, suggesting something went seriosuly wrong in the execution of the raid - they are mere tourists and Christian missionaries.

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Chased by the incompetent Philippine military, the captors force the prisoners to undertake a gruelling foot march through the Philippine jungle. As the seemingly directionless march grinds on from base camp to base camp, taking in a chaotic hospital siege along the way, the increasingly worn-down captors and captives find themselves drawing together.

Cannes Best Director (2009) winner Brillante Mendoza crafts this sweaty, ambiguous, unnerving film with confidence. We are drawn skilfully through diverse camera work into an intimate position in this ambivalent inner world of the Philippine outlands. The handheld verite camera sequences strongly convey the confusion of the gunfights and chases that interrupt the boredom of the grinding marches, cutting the quiet jungle hum at random as the extremist group barges regularly into the Philippine military, with the steamy foiliage making clear lines of sight impossible.

Likewise more grander, sweeping camera movements establish the landscape and environment as a powerful force in itself - this is dangerous land that you can believe an army could get lost in. The effect is almost hallucinatory at times, creating the impression that captors and captives have left earth.

Alone in this elevated environment and mental state, Mendoza intriguingly explores how the lines between hostage and hostage-taker, and the lines drawn within the characters minds themselves, begin to melt away. The hostages begin to address their captors with the basic codes of civility - pleases and thank yous - as if the old laws still apply.

As the film progresses, this develops further, to the point where missionary hostage Theresa (Isabelle Huppert) finds herself pulling one of the younger rebels into cover when he is injured. One of the younger female hostages even flirts with her one of her guards, complaining when she is criticised by the others for this intimacy that she feels the rebels have legitimate goals (even though they have shown themselves willing to execute, even behead, their charges). As for the rebels, they declare themselves devout Muslims, who will respect what they see as the Qur'an's role for women, but once their more restrained group leader is killed in an ambush, his psychotically unstable usurper throws his teachings aside. Mendoza never lets your expectations, or your blood pressure, settle as the strange and isolated group face these physical and existential threats.

Captive is a strong, intense film experience that is a great jumping on point if you have never experienced Mendoza's work before.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2012
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Unlikely relationships form between hostages and captors as they trek through the Philippine jungle.

Director: Brillante Mendoza

Writer: Boots Agbayani Pastor, Patrick Bancarel, Arlyn dela Cruz, Brillante Mendoza

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Joel Torre, Maria Isabel Lopez, Mercedes Cabral, Kristoffer King, Ronnie Lazaro, Sid Lucero, Madeleine Nicolas, Raymond Bagatsing, Baron Geisler, Mon Confiado, Rustica Carpio, Bernard Palanca, Perry Dizon, Evelyn Vargas

Year: 2012

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: France, Germany, Philippines


BIFF 2012
London 2012

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