There are two types of narrative filmmakers in this world (stay with me for a minute). Firstly, there are those who seek to have their films overtly participate in the drama that they present, depending on sophisticated camera work, powerful scores, expressive performances and dramatic narrative developments. Then there are those who stand back from the action, document the events that pass across the path of the lens, and find drama in an earthier approach less tampered with by cinematic artifice.
This is a simplification, of course – there’s plenty of grey area. But for the record, Tobias Lindholm, director of the Danish thriller A Hijacking, is very much in the latter category. Like many other great filmmakers who have often tended towards this approach (Lumet and Eastwood come to mind), Lindholm utilises it to great effect in order to create a sense of authenticity and raw trauma. This is a film about real people suffering through a very real experience.
A Hijacking details the events that ensue when a Danish Cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Moving between the traumatic experiences of the ship’s onboard cook (Pilou Asbaek) and the shipping company CEO back in Denmark (Soren Malling) who must negotiate the ransom for the crew’s release, the film avoids descending into genre cliché or predictability at every turn. This is the kind of cinema that Denmark seems to do best, and for many it will hark back to some of the better films of the American New Wave.
Based upon, but not actually about, the hijackings of two Danish-owned freighters in 2007 and 2008, Lindholm’s new feature is clearly influenced by these events in its documentary-styled treatment of the subject matter. It is this effort to make a film that authentically captures the experience of a hijacking, without ever attempting to correlate it with the real world events from which it is derived, which makes the film so fascinating (the use of the indefinite article in the title is inspired).
Commenting on this approach, Lindholm refers to his lack of faith in the ability of cinema to capture historical truth: “I couldn’t make a film about the truth of the hijackings in the Indian Ocean, because I don’t believe that truth exists. But I could make a film about seamen, pirates, CEOs and relatives. Because they do exist. And if A Hijacking feels like it is about them, then I am very close to my goal.”
A huge part of the success of A Hijacking comes down to incredible performances from all the key players. Malling is totally convincing as the rigid, distant and dedicated CEO attempting to remain composed as negotiations become increasingly hostile. Asbaek beautifully conveys the harrowing and emotionally confused experience (Stockholm syndrome comes to mind) of living as a hostage for an extended period of time. And Rolland Moller delivers another incredible performance (I recently saw him on top form in Northwest) as the ship’s engineer.
An outstanding psychological drama that should not be missed. Do the Danes ever get it wrong?
Another belated review from the Melbourne International Film Festival.