Sunday, September 9, 2012

Assalamu alaikum

Peace be unto you. Assalamu alaikum is a shorter form of a grand greeting assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakutah (Peace be unto you and so may the mercy of Allah and His blessings). The greeting is recommended to be only used between Muslims.

Filipino Cannes winning director Brillante Mendoza returns to the silver screen with his new masterpiece “Captive.” The grand scale of issues depicted in the film is such of great weight: the government’s squashy attempt to demolish terrorism, the flourishing business of kidnap-for-ransom south of the Philippines, corruption in government, military’s poor intel, religion – are among many others captured. Mendoza through his film wishes not to tell you a story, he wants you to experience it, contemplate on it and then live with it.

“Captive” dramatizes Mendoza’s picture of 2001 abduction of a number of foreigners including locals at Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan by the Abu Sayyaf Group. It brings forth the journey of the rebels along with their hostages to Abu’s stronghold Basilan. Conflicted between the military’s attempt to launch offensive attacks and the Abu's aim for survival, the story centers on Therese (Isabelle Huppert) a French social worker and her exchanges with her abductors and fellow victims – an American couple, which is a clear nod to real-life Martin and Gracia Burnham, medical practitioners and other locals. It stresses on particular dates true to the history of Abu Sayyaf’s atrocities like the Lamitan Siege, rape, attacks to Christianity, and the beheadings of soldiers and one of the captives that served a gift to a nation then celebrating Independence Day. Until the 7th of June 2002, finally, in an operation of the military, Therese was saved along with the few others and the Abu’s operation fell.

The entire 2-hours devoted to the film is almost a non-resting experience of Mendoza’s shaky camera works, although dizzying at certain point, is proven effective technique to put you in the world inhabited by his characters. Most of the shots are tight, as if you yourself is also huddled, tied by a rope joining the rest of the captives. There is fear as to the director’s success of providing no leeway where and when riffles will start firing from all directions. You sense the danger. 

Commendable is the way the actors are not in any way shown acting out their roles. You will not question the authenticity of their characters. They are real – the emotions, the expressions – every movement are carried in a driving way to push the narrative. There are no flimsy dialogues. The words are true enough to their fear, anxiousness and hunger, not only for food but for freedom.

It has been criticized by former film critics, the said “properly subdued” atrocities it tries to project. To this I disagree. Mendoza’s image of crossfire is properly distanced to Hollywood-esque explosion after explosion underscored through a slow motion of debris flying in all directions punctuated by smoke. The culture of impunity portrayed, with all the proper elements, is plain and good enough to get the feel and get the message across. No sensationalism.

There are parts that are vividly haunting, challenging enough for interpretation. There was a review that scoffed over a part in which the character of Huppert, Therese, argued against an angry Abu throwing away to the open sea her box full of Bibles. The critic said it was poorly written. On the contrary, I find it essential in the building of Huppert’s character. If you will notice it was the first time she cried, the first time she manifested weakness, an emotional breakdown after they were abducted. She was indignant yet there was fear.

It is important because it created a balance to the Abu’s religiosity. When Dr. Rustica Carpio’s character, Soledad, her companion for 5 years of social works, died there she stood up once more to the Abus saying “she’s a Christian and I will bury her” clutching a rosary in one hand. In this very small scale, the battle of religion, the battle of gods happening in all corners of the world, is presented. Add to that a scene in the Lamitan siege where upon taking control of an entire hospital, an Abu Sayyaf member smashed an image of the Virgin Mary.

Another commendable thing about Captive is that despite the apparent atrocity depicted, it doesn’t try to preach or sell an ideology. It tells you a story, plain and simple, but nevertheless it provokes you to think and hopefully create a ripple. Somehow, it presented the side of the Muslim rebels, how they perceived the fighting to be part of a grand Holy War (jihad); everything in subservience to Allah. They shout Allah Akbar (God is Greatest) as they slash a person’s head. They greet each other peace (assalamu alaikum) clutching high powered guns. They kneel, bow and often would pray, putting them in a vulnerable state despite the imminent danger.

At the risk of being accused of “glamorizing terrorism” like journalist Arlyn dela Cruz, the film offers a short peak on the human side of the Abus. A number of them are kids, the youngest probably 11 or 12, like the character that drew close to Therese. The idea that they are fighting for their freedom, to reclaim Mindanao, the land that according to them owned and flourished by the hands of their ancestors. It is such a century old fight that you’ll stop and contemplate, who are you really rooting for in all these?

The success of the film is actually what the naysayers are focusing on. You get angry, you get bored and you get tired during the entire experience because you yourself is a hostage in the film. In the end, there is a sigh of relief although not really. Because you know it did not really end at all. 

2 reaction(s):

Pepe said...

i've watched the movie few hours ago and about to write an entry, but with this post, i might just ask permission to copy and re-post. :D

i've waited for this film and it was such an experience. it brings the viewer to the scenes, challenges the viewer to think and make a stand.

though i was a bit disappointed to see that the theater was almost empty. filipino moviegoers are yet to appreciate works like this.

great review, DB. thank you for sharing.

T.R.Aurelius said...

great review indeed!

sure wish most Filipino would learn how to appreciate such works like this...



Copyright © 2010 Désolé Boy | Blogger Templates by Splashy Templates | Free PSD Design by Amuki