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by Jude Bautista
Kidnap victims sit huddled in an outrigger boat. Everyone is terrified. In the distance they hear another boat approaching. The Abu Sayyaf orders their captives to hunch down. A large tarp was thrown over concealing them from the other boat. None of them even thought of making any noise. The other boat is near, they’re just fishermen who wave in acknowledgment to the strange men. They pass by without any idea of the unusual cargo that lay beneath the cover.
“Captive” by director Brillante Mendoza had its Philippine premiere at the Shang Cineplex last June 9, 2012. You can catch “Captive” in nearly all theaters this Sept. 5! Among the many V.IP’s in attendance were French Amb. Gilles Garachon, Senator Loren Legarda and National Artists for Literature Bien Lumbera and F. Sionil Jose. The screening was part of the Citi-Rustan’s French film festival.
The current film fest at Shang Cineplex that also opens on Sept. 5 is the Cine Europa Film fest which screens the hottest European films for free. All films during the Citi-Rustans French Film festival were also screened for free. They included the works of Olivier Assayas and many other French directors. Alan Paule who plays an orderly in “Captive” is also in “MNL 143” which will also be screened in Cine Europa.
As recognition of our Independence Day, selected Filipino films that have been exhibited in France were also screened last June 12. “Busong” by Aureus Solito was in (Director’s Fortnight, Cannes 2011), “Manila” by Raya Martin and Adolf Alix Jr. (Official Selection, Cannes 2009), “Bakal Boys” by Ralston Jover (Participant Cinéfondation Atelier 2012).
Watching “Captive” unfold on screen brings back memories of news stories of tourists foreign and local, kidnapped by the dreaded Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) more than a decade ago. Abu Sayyaf meaning “bearer of the sword” is a terrorist group that has links with Al Qaeda. There were quite a few mysteries then that could not be solved in the media regarding the kidnapping. One of them was how they were transported and yet were undetected by authorities. The tarpaulin incident above is one of many that reveal how the group did it.
Filipino audiences will find out the hows and whys that perplexed them during the year long incident. Soon after the commercial release of “Captive” Mendoza will also screen his much awaited film starring Nora Aunor, “Thy Womb” or Sinapupunan local title. There is also a planned blockbuster film by Mendoza with Nora, Vilma Santos and Coco Martin.
Captive is captivating on every level. Although the film is quite action packed it was also able to show that the problem of terrorism is not black and white. The ASG has diminished in power but the same societal ills that gave birth to their organization still exist. Poverty, sectorial violence and lack of educational and job opportunities are only among the few problems which motivate people to join the ASG.
Mendoza doesn’t oversimplify the conflict as good guy / bad guy. He very ably captures the harrowing and fast paced pursuit of the military and the group’s escape through jungles and waterways. There’s almost never a dull moment. Violence is not just physical. It is also mental where the constant threat and verbal abuse sometimes is worse than getting shot.
The ordeal lasted for over a year so it was inevitable that the victims bond with their captors. Some members of the ASG and the kidnapped victims were shot by military during many encounters. The situation was a perfect case for the Stockholm syndrome.
Isabelle Huppert plays Thérèse Bourgoine, a French social worker helping educate children in Palawan. At first she is traumatized but slowly became the strongest willed among the victims. She looks out for Soledad (Rustica Carpio) who works with her and was also kidnapped. Therese even becomes a mother figure to Hamed (Timothy Mabalot), a 16-year-old terrorist recruit. Hamed is an example of some people who are victims of poverty, lack of education and sometimes military abuse. The whole cast has many great Filipino actors, some of them only having cameo roles. Anita Linda and Evelyn Vargas pop out of nowhere as villagers sheltering the group on the run.
The actors portraying the Abu Sayyaf members were all exceptional. The usually handsome Sid Lucero was almost unrecognizable as Mokhif, the most ruthless killer of the group. Mon Confiado as Abu Omar was the one barking orders at the captives. Ronnie Lazaro plays Abu Azali who is based on real life leader Abu Sabaya. He is the most recognizable among the ASG bosses with trademark head warmer and sunglasses. Tado Jimenez seems like a surprising casting choice. But even he is convincing as part of the group. Wearing his thick retro Coke bottle glasses and speaking broken English, he is the comic relief among the terrorists.
Angel Aquino and Che Ramos are nurses Olive and Joan, who get caught up as victims when the group seeks shelter at their rural hospital. Aquino’s perfect face seems out of place in the jungle but because of her acting skills she becomes the character. One of her scenes is delivering a child in the hospital during a firefight between the military and the kidnappers. Angel was also be seen in Manny Palo’s “Sta Niña” in Cinemalaya film fest last July. Angel Aquino fans can also watch her first lead role in lock buster film called “Amorosa.”