MFF 2013 DAY FOUR: A Hijacking – Sightseers

9/29/2013

A Hijacking

“Cost-benefit analysis”

In A Hijacking, Somali pirates capture a Danish cargo ship and demand a 15 million dollar ransom, and they are prepared to wait as long as it takes. Uneducated, destitute, desperate and armed with AK-47s, their inaccessibility proves a major advantage in the hostage taking. There is no opportunity to snipe pirates from a distance, “cut the power,” or gauge your adversary face to face; being utterly alone in the middle of the [Indian] ocean is the ultimate corner. As this reality sinks into the viewer, so does the frustration of powerlessness as the shipping corporation’s CEO (Søren Malling) attempts to negotiate via agonizing long distance calls or faxes. It took me a while to realize that this CEO was my main character, the majority of the film taking place his cosmopolitan, antiseptic white and grey office and conference room cum war room. He hires a professional negotiator and is advised, probably wisely, to stand firm and bid them to insultingly low figures before working to higher numbers. We spend surprisingly little time with the hostages and certainly can’t be said to ever linger with them – in fact we don’t even see them get boarded – and this puts the viewer into an interesting emotional position, testing how we will react to this protracted negotiation process. How much are a few human lives worth? Had the CEO paid the initial 15 million dollar bounty for seven men (three native Danes, four Somalis), his company would’ve been, I conceive, gravely and perhaps irreparably wounded, and at the very least a large number of employees would’ve been displaced – and a genuine complaint of mine is that the weight of this acquiescence is not fully understood by the viewer, how much of a hit the sum would register as to the company. Imagine those employees coming back to work in Copenhagen after costing millions of dollars apiece – then try to imagine one of them sharing an elevator with that CEO. By the fourth incredible month, is the CEO – conflicted or not – a monster for not having yet conceded? Hijacking‘s energy never attains any notable peak, contributing to this horrible gut feeling of grim patience – personally, I left the theater feeling very morose and not unlike I had been one of those hostages (this is a compliment and a detraction in one). And during all of that impotent tedium I could only ponder into the void.. in a situation without any hope of a reversal of power, how could this have been avoided? Avoid the seas themselves? Should cargo ships be heavily fortified, all employees trained like militias? Punish the countries whose desperation generated such hooligans? Eliminate all wireless communication with those vessels, so a hostage scenario would be impossible? Clearly none of these is feasible. A very frustrating film…

Sightseers

“Breaking bad”

…fortuitously followed by Sightseers, matching in irreverence the seriousness A Hijacking applied to the value of human life. When that tacky, criminally overplayed old pop song “Tainted Love” signaled quirky opening credits, I abandoned all hope – a hostage yet again – but am pleased to report nothing that was to come would be nearly so offensive. The infinitely adorable Tina (Alice Lowe) and her ginger bf Chris (Steve Oram) embark on the Britishest of holidays, an historic and often intentionally bland tour of Yorkshire in their love shack caravan. Each have very peculiar personalities which seem inextricably relevant to the way Sightseers is told (this vitally important quality of comedy being wholly contingent on personality is all too rarely successful): they are both cutely childlike, but in the way that a child may have no conception of morality, no empathy after inflicting harm, no apparent conscience; and they’re in their mid-30s. This schizoid disconnect (they’re inarguably psychopaths) makes grotesquely brutal murder a trivial occurrence – something active to get the blood pumping! Useful at least for Tina, whose own personal pace often feels like that of a head-trauma victim (she’s just so cute in this film), while Chris is more of the interior-monologue lacking, capricious adolescent. And so for essentially no good reason, a line of corpses accrues in the wake of their caravan and civilized trappings are abandoned – it’s a place we can only visit in fantasy (or until recently on AMC). Sightseers works – just – because of the intelligence of director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump, the loving duo you can’t help but liken to Jackson-Walsh or, naturally, Chris-Tina. The filmmakers know that comedy is timing and that absurdity can be stretched like silly-putty. And despite the grey, drizzly, and rural dullness, Yorkshire cannot help but be shockingly photogenic on a regular basis. Thank heaven there are still filmmakers out there with intelligence who see the value of levity and irreverence.

written by David Ashley

Seen so far
Blow Out
Oh Boy
Something in the Air
A Hijacking
Sightseers

Ranked
Something in the Air
Blow Out
A Hijacking
Sightseers
Oh Boy

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