Friday, December 17, 2010

SCN: Miguel Ángel Vivas' KIDNAPPED'll get your juices flowing -- and maybe your ire

Crap from an angel? Well, what's in a name? (And it's his middle name, anyhow.) Am I being too hard on Miguel Ángel Vivas and his new Spanish movie KIDNAPPED (Secuestrados)? Maybe. Clearly, Señor Vivas means his film as a provocation to its audience -- which it sure as hell is. But is it much more than that? TrustMovies has doubts. He admits (and grudingly admires) this filmmaker's talent, which is often on noticeable display throughout this 85-minute movie, but at the finale (there's ain't no denouement here) he felt annoyed and abused. (Which is exactly the effect, he suspects, for which the filmmaker hoped.)

If not, then why begin his movie in the manner he has done? It's a terrific opening, by the way: an image of a man, his hands tied and his head covered and loosely wrapped, with the wind making small indentations in that wrapping. What follows is one good shock, followed by another, by another. Then we get a respite, as we decide that the filmmaker (that handsome devil shown at left) has begun in media res, then taken us a few minutes onward, only to flash us back into something like "Several Hours Earlier" or "One Day Previous."  Except that no title card tells us this, and instead -- having seen many, many movies in our day, right? -- we simply assume this to be so. Well, you know the old saying: Never assume: it makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me."

There have been other "provocations" in the popular family-in-jeopardy genre: Haneke's Funny Games (either version) comes immediately to mind, as well as Inside from Bustillo & Maury. But Kidnapped is something different. It doesn't (and I don't think it gives a shit about this) play fair with its audience. Consequently, once the film concludes, anger may be the audience's biggest response. But then, a bit later (like right now -- several hours down the road, as I am writing this review), I find myself grinning as I type and rethink the movie.

Not that my grin means that I am overly happy with this film. Let's start with its title. Kidnapped usually involves being taken away, transported, by force. That doesn't happen here. Seized might have been a better title, but I guess it doesn't have the cojones of "kid-napped." (It does, however have more originality: the K-word has been the title of some 35 movies already; Seized has been used only once). Talking only about the chosen title seems a bit paltry, so instead let's ask about the filmmaker's decision to use the split-screen. This may be the worst example of split-screen in a movie that I have ever seen. Vivas insists on doing it at exactly the mom-ent when two hugely eventful & important things are taking place. Both views are exciting and well done, but one's eye can only take in one of the two. So we simply miss what's happening on the other side of the screen. This is stupid and unforgivable. You can probably piece together what happened plot-wise, all right, but in terms of action -- and there's a lot of it -- you didn't see it.  (Or if you did, you missed what was happening on the other side of the screen.)

Considering how short the film is, it still drags a bit midway, and a little too much goes wrong with the kidnappers' plot for maximum believability. Vivas is very good, however, at upping the tension -- both the intergenerational tension we see as we are introduced to the family, and then the tension we feel as audience members because we know something awful is going to happen. As director and co-writer (with Javier García) Vivas withholds the blood and gore for quite awhile, and then lets it come on full force. (The most violent scene provoked loud screams from the Walter Reade audience the afternoon I saw the film. But the filmmaker lets us know this is OK: the victim has been shown to be a very naughty Albanian, these days the eastern European bad-guy of choice.)

What Vivas is probably best at is upending our expectations, which is also the main point behind this provocation. To move immediately from his ending -- one of the nastiest in movie history -- to the song he has chosen to be sung as the credits roll, is to be slapped in the face repeatedly and hard by the grinning, son-of-a-bitch director.

I realize that I have now said enough to send fans of this genre racing non-stop to check out the film. Unfortunately, it has already played both of its performances at Spanish Cinema Now. But don't despair: I am told that IFC Films has picked up Kidnapped for its On-Demand IFC Midnight series, after which a DVD debut is probably in the cards. When the official VOD dates are announced, I'll keep you posted.

Just one week left for the Spanish Cinema Now series. Click here for the complete program.

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