In May 2001, twenty people were snatched from a resort on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Over the next year, some were killed by Abu Sayyaf guerillas, some were freed, and one married her captor. In June 2002, a rescue mission by Filipino authorities resulted in the deaths of two hostages. The remainder were set free.
This account from Brillante Mendoza, the Filipino writer-director behind controversial 2009 thriller ‘Kinatay’, keeps strictly to the facts. Shot on digital video and employing a spare, unembellished script, the film follows French missionary Thérèse Bourgnoine (a luminous Isabelle Huppert) and her fellow hostages as they’re taken from the hotel at gunpoint, carried out to sea and dragged through the jungle for 12 punishing months.
‘Captive’ is gripping, sober cinema, shot through with moments of almost unbearable tension: a sequence in which the kidnappers take shelter in a small town hospital is heart-stopping. The complex morality of the situation is beautifully explored: as the captives begin inevitably to draw closer to their abductors, the balance of sympathies shifts.
The photography isn’t entirely functional: just as Thérèse pauses momentarily to appreciate the natural grandeur of her surroundings, so Mendoza gives us brief, breathtaking glimpses of the jungle and it’s inhabitants, implacable and undisturbed by the suffering taking place in the foreground. The performances strike a similar balance, occasionally transcending realism for a rewarding moment of heightened emotion or drama.
A study of life under extreme pressure, ‘Captive’ is forceful, absorbing and, at times, disconcertingly enjoyable, as Mendoza’s hands-off approach gives the story’s inherent drama room to breathe.