Down in Thessaloniki on FIPRESCI jury duty, constantly fighting the urge to play hooky and go on a reckless booze-and-baklava binge, I somehow managed to hit the fest off with a terrific choice: Tobias Lindholm's A Hijacking. As much a nail-biting thriller as an experiment in narrative dualism, the movie tells the story of a Danish vessel taken hostage by a group of Somali terrorists somewhere on the Indian Ocean. The subsequent ransom negotiations between the hijackers and the shipping company form a push-pull pattern that could seem all too familiar, save for one detail: The drama's two key participants never meet each other, nor do they share the same screen space.
The ship's cook, Mikkel (scruffy and hirsute Johan Philip Asbæk), is a mere head shot hanging on the wall of the company's CEO, Peter (scrubbed and pinched Søren Malling), who heads the nerve-wrecking negotiations from an office back in Denmark. Still, the two men are linked in a way that neither of them is fully aware of. The ordeal they both sustain, though different in nature and circumstance, will change them forever—even as their respective traumas will stay squarely on separate sides of a disparate class divide.
The film is programmatically adverse to crosscutting, and Lindholm makes a commendable effort to keep the two narrative stands as separate as possible. None of the ship-to-land phone-call scenes show us both sides of the conversation. No matter how big our craving for a quick across-the-globe reaction shot, Lindholm keeps us at bay—as well as guessing. At a crucial point in the narrative, we're denied the usual godlike view of what's happening on the other end of the phone, which results in unbearable tension, then perversely alleviated by the passing of time. We almost forget what it was that we were worrying about, until the narrative switches back to the ship and we get the answer we'd have killed for just a couple of minutes earlier.
Lindholm neither shies away from nor wallows in the physical humiliation the hostages are forced to endure. His approach is so evenhanded as to yield a number of scenes that surprise the viewer with their shifts of tone; a moment can go from comical to casual to horrific within a single shot. Contrary to such glib exercises in self-righteous dread as Craig Zobel's recent—and god-awful—Compliance, the film never indulges in leering pleasures of movie-movie victimization. The film has respect for all sides of the equation (terrorists and corporate hacks included), and its main purpose is to show how much it sometimes takes to survive, as well as to facilitate someone else's survival. It's a major effort by a new and promising talent.
The Thessaloniki International Film Festival runs from November 2—11. For more information, click here.