Thursday, June 16, 2011

Miguel Ángel Vivas' KIDNAPPED will 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 , the director and (with Javier García) co-writer of the new Spanish movie KIDNAPPED (Secuestrados)? Maybe. Clearly, Señor Vivas means his film to be above all 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 film, but at the finale (there's ain't no denouement here) he felt annoyed and abused. (Which is, I suspect, exactly the effect on his audience for which the filmmaker fervently hopes.)

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 Señor Vivas gives a shit about this) play fair with its audience. Consequently, once the film concludes, anger may be that audience's biggest response. But then, awhile later (like right now -- six months to the day from when I first saw this movie during last December's Spanish Cinema Now series at the FSLC) -- I find myself grinning as I type and rethink the thing, all over again.

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 "kidnapped." (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 moment 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 has happened plot-wise, all right, but in terms of action -- there's a lot of it -- you didn't see it.  (Or if you did, you missed it 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. The filmmaker 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 Vivas 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. (Masochists: start your engines.)

I realize that I have now said enough to send fans of this nasty genre racing non-stop to check it out. IFC Films picked up Kidnapped for both theatrical and On-Demand release, as part of the IFC Midnight series, after which a DVD debut is probably in the cards. The film opens tomorrow, Friday, June 17, at Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub theater. (It began its VOD run this past Wednesday. Click here to learn where and how to get it.)

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