Films about hostage situations are usually limited to Bruce Willis saving children or Harrison Ford kicking people off his airplane. It is definitely rare to find a film about a hostage negotiation in which the terrorists are people too, but Greek filmmaker Constantine Giannaris’ “Hostage” is a riveting and provocative exception to the rule.
“Hostage” follows Elion Senia – played with a powerful combination of angst and vulnerability by Stathis Papadopoulos – as he hijacks a bus and demands money, guns and a safe ride back to Albania in an attempt to regain the honor he feels Greek authorities have stolen from him. If Senia’s logic sounds a little convoluted, that’s probably because it is. Most of his personal history and motives are revealed only through short flashbacks that, though visually stunning, fall short when it comes to telling Senia’s story.
Throughout the film, the camera does most of the talking. Shot and edited like a documentary, “Hostage” is light on dialogue and heavy on character close-ups that work to convey most of the story. Based on the real-life story of Albanian Flamour Pisli, who hijacked an intercity Greek bus in 1999, “Hostage” – thanks in large part to Giannaris -makes it feel like you’re watching the real event unfold. “Hostage” uses all the trademark techniques of photojournalism – from the film’s natural lighting and grainy 16mm look to the camera’s shakiness – as it follows Senia and the various hostages on the bus.
The hostages themselves provide much of the film’s best moments, as the proverbial motley crew includes a woman leaving her husband and the man she is leaving him for, a junkie who spends most of the film in withdrawal, a black man who overcomes the junkie’s racist comments to help care for him and a token lesbian. Although only a few of the hostages are really fleshed out as characters, Senia’s interactions with the group as they come to respect and support him help to humanize him. By its close, “Hostage” urges us to root for the hijacker with the heart of gold to make it home safely.
“Hostage” gets some surprising comedic mileage from what goes on around the vehicle as it makes its way towards the Albanian border and the film’s startling, stunning conclusion. In one sequence, Senia blows off the police to finish up an interview with a television journalist. The sequences with the media and the police serve to add some intriguing social commentary about the “media circus” phenomena, as well as some much-needed black humor to a film that is otherwise incredibly intense.
Watching “Hostage” feels a lot like viewing a major news event as it unfolds on television – it’s captivating, intense and direct, but the film leaves you with more questions than answers. “Hostage” explores everything from racism to the concept of honor to terrorism to the relationship between mother and son, and yet, Giannaris avoids easy answers and forces the viewer to deal with the film’s raw images alone. This film is not quite as easy to swallow as the stylized Hollywood hijacking films that have come before it, but it is definitely entertaining; providing more than enough food for thought to leave you satisfied until Harrison Ford makes his next big budget flick.