Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Hijacking (Kapringen)

A HIJACKING (Kapringen)       B            
Denmark  (103 mi)  2012  d:  Tobias Lindholm             Official site

The Danish put their own characteristic spin on everything, from the moody and melancholy tone of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the national support the country provides through a system of public grants provided to artists, funding theater, museums, and various film projects like this one.  The nation itself is a country of 5 million people populating a small collection of about 50 islands, where the national economy is built upon a huge commercial shipping fleet, where nearly every family has someone employed in the industry, including the director’s own father.  So in 2007 when a Danish cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, it became a personal story that nearly everyone in the country could intimately relate to, as someone from their family could be sitting out there in the middle of the ocean subject to the wild whims of heavily armed pirates.  The film is something of a follow-up of an earlier American documentary Stolen Seas (2012), which examines the impact of an actual November 2008 hijacking of the CEC Future, a Danish cargo ship traveling through the Gulf of Aden, events that alerted the world to the revival of this seemingly barbaric 18th century practice, becoming commonplace in the modern era along the East African coast of Somalia.  While that documentary does an excellent job recreating the hostage negotiations process, where much of what’s revelatory is gleaning insight into the little known Somali culture through the eyes and ears of the American educated Somali negotiator, who was not one of the original hijackers, but was hired exclusively due to his language proficiency.  In contrast, this film is a fictionalized recreation of real events that examines the impact that piracy has on the effected Danish families back home and the company executives in Copenhagen that must eventually come to terms with the pirate’s outrageous ransom demands, originally requesting $15 million dollars.   

Largely seen through the differing eyes of two individuals, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæck), the hijacked ship’s cook, spending most of his time at gunpoint in isolation with two other crew members, separated throughout from the rest of the crew, and Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), the wealthy CEO of the shipping company, constantly seen in a cramped executive boardroom with the other major players, where what’s interesting is that both men are intentionally kept as much in the dark as possible, offering no clues that might in any way be considered helpful.  Instead the crew is continually bullied and intimidated, where they’re not even allowed to use the bathroom for the first month, forced to live in their own putrid stink in sweltering heat with no air circulation.  Meanwhile the suited executives have to deal with Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), often heard on the phone, but never seen, where they refuse to provide information about the crew, insisting they speak exclusively about money.  The company hires an expert on hijacking, but Peter refuses the advice to hire an impartial negotiator, insisting that he carry out his chief executive duties, which includes working in the best interests of the company and the crew.  What might surprise some is the polite and overly courteous language displayed between Peter and Omar, where neither wants to convey any hint of weakness, both crunching numbers, behaving as if they are dealing in the world of high finance.  While this is Peter’s specialty, he’s never before been threatened by the execution of his crew members if he doesn’t produce a high enough number.  At times, both sides crumble under the pressure, made worse by not knowing what to expect, often quickly cutting off phone lines to elevate the dramatic suspense.  While these death threats are typical piracy maneuvers and practiced techniques, one still never knows just what they’re dealing with on the other end of the phone line, where like police hostage negotiations, the important thing is to maintain regular contact and make use of what little trust can be established.

Time drags on and days turn into weeks, where the growing frustration eventually turns into months, where the families live in a state of hysteria, never knowing if their loved one is living or dead, where the company cannot provide any information, as they don’t want anything getting into the newspapers or television reports where it can be used against them.  The impact grows typically unrealistic, as the board can’t understand why negotiations can’t be wrapped up like any other high stakes deal, and family members are shunned from the excruciating pressure that falls on the shoulders of Peter, who really has to shut out all outside conditions to be able to stand what he’s doing, which is prolonging the agony of men’s lives and obliterating the hopes of the families that have lived for months without them.  Onboard, the ship quickly runs out of food and psychological tensions only escalate, where the hijackers finally allow Mikkel to call his wife, but interrupt the call screaming at the wife to demand that the shipping owner pay the ransom money, and then quickly hang up.  The effect is brutal, as are the lingering conditions onboard, which resemble the unbearable treatment of POW’s in Vietnam, thrown into the empty storage shell of the vessel, like living in a cave with no light whatsoever, losing whatever shred of humanity they have left.  In the end, both sides behave like animals, stripping themselves of that same humanity, showing literally no mercy whatsoever, as these are the terms of the game.  What sets this version apart is the understated minimalism, stripped down to the bare essentials, providing as little as possible, using a cinéma vérité style to show a wrenching documentary style realism, where brief moments of crippling emotional violence fill the screen, followed by an interminable silence, where one waits, but time needlessly drags on, turning this into a brooding and morbid exercise of prolonged misery and doom, where a feeling of helplessness prevails, as all tactics fail, yet both sides continue to wear down and eventually exhaust the other into submission.  This is a particularly gloomy film with ominous reverberations, exposing a tiresome and damaging process that may alter the lives of those who pay the ultimate price, like any soldier returning from the particularly catastrophic conditions of war, where the haunting ferociousness of the experience has the capacity to extinguish the human spirit.

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