Tuesday, 14 February 2012
'Captive' Berlinale (Competition) review:
If this was made ten years ago 'Captive' would have felt like a shrill, pernicious little piece of reactionary Islamophobia. Coming a decade after the events of 9/11, as tempers cool, it seems all the more unnecessary and unwelcome. In it a group of middle class French tourists - headed up French star Isabelle Huppert - are abducted from their luxury Philippine resort by a group of muslim fundamentalists who seek to use them as leverage to make political demands from the government. They are ruthless to a man, bumping off any who are not worth much in ransom, beheading them and then laughing about it, firing their rifles into the air and shouting "praise be to Allah". They are cartoon villains and lack even genuine spiritual conviction.
They preach at their captives constantly, telling them about the laws of the Qur'an even as they make a mockery of them: for instance, it cuts to one man stealing a hostage's watch as the prisoners are told not to take things that don't belong to them. They also force female captives to marry them in order to have sex with virgins without offending religious tradition. The events of the film are set during 2001, so we are even shown them celebrating 9/11 to the horror of the westerners, who instantly understand the event's significance based on few details. In reality the enormity of those events needed time to sink in, even with access to the shocking images on live television.
Kidnappings such as these - as happen frequently in South America, Africa and Asia - are an interesting and frightening prospect, certainly worthy of an interesting and insightful film. Though this feels like white post-colonial panic. You could say these terrorists happen to be muslim because in the Philippines that is the reality, and that the things they do are similarly routed in a horrific truth that doesn't obey the laws of so-called "political correctness". Yet it's not that the film includes (or even highlights) the Islamic specificity of this kidnap that's offensive: it's that it dominates the movie totally, with many of the abductors' rants sounding like deliberate attempts to put Islam on trial, whilst Christian characters are shown to be charitable, respectful and unwavering the face of adversity.