2004, R, 86 min. Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz. Starring Mía Maestro, Rubén Blades, Carlos Julio Molina, Pedro Perez, Carlos Madera, Jean Paul Leroux.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 21, 2005
This film about the kidnappings that are endemic in Caracas, Venezuela, and elsewhere in Latin and South America bursts with stylish technique and exciting propulsive motion. If the violence weren’t so nasty and real, it might be fun to watch. Reported to be the most successful Venezuelan-made film in its homeland, Secuestro Express clearly taps into a potent national vibe. Writer-director Jakubowicz has technical chops galore. His Secuestro Express, which was executive-produced by Austin's Elizabeth Avellán, is jam-packed with camera tricks: speeded-up action, artificial lighting, extreme compositions and close-ups, jazzy edits and split screens, and so on. Much of his frequently hand-held camerawork is also angled at the gritty perspective of the Caracas streets, where poor people struggle for existence and rich people fear for their lives. And so it happens to Carla (Maestro) and Martin (Leroux), a well-to-do young couple who are randomly kidnapped by three thugs who are career kidnappers. The movie consists almost entirely of the torments Carla and Martin suffer at the hands of their kidnappers. It’s gruesome stuff, and all the more so for its unpredictability. Still, the film is specked with odd bits of humor, as when one of the abductors is introduced as a "painter, rapist, and sentimental father." Occasionally, certain aspects of the narrative confound some of the story’s inherent logic (Carla seems to get chummy with her captors and offers them Ecstasy, and the amounts of money involved in a drug deal and the requested ransom seem out of kilter in relation to each other). The film also seems to share a not fully articulated belief in extreme poverty as an excuse for extreme violence, a viewpoint that many viewers are bound to have some trouble with even though the police on at least two occasions are shown to be as corrupt and vicious at the kidnappers. Nevertheless, Secuestro Express zips along at an urgent pace, both tantalizing and repulsing as it goes. (See austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2005-10-21/screens_feature3.html for more information.)