Friday, July 13, 2012

Film Pairing — Reality-Based Ransom, Films Set In Caracas and Paris

Many years ago, Jean Paul Getty III, grandson of the legendary oil tycoon was kidnapped. The perpetrators demanded $17 million. To prove they had him, they sent one of the boy’s ears along with the ransom note.  Adolph Coors III was kidnapped as was Frank Sinatra Jr. and Patty Hearst.  Kidnapping for profit has not only happened to children of celebrities and not only to the super rich, it is a real life business where regular folks can be taken away and returned for surprisingly small amounts.  Then again, some are not returned at all.

Kidnapping has been a way of life, far more popular than bank robberies, for gangs in Mexico and in South America.   Extreme poverty amidst the extreme wealth add a political dimension, and to some a justifiable reason for the act.  In societies where the haves must live behind gated communities with hired security and the have-nots in tin huts in rambling slums, this kind of lucrative but dangerous vocation seems to thrive.

In Secuesto Express, we meet the do-gooder daughter of a wealthy man and her shallow boyfriend, playboy son of another wealthy man.  They are the targets of three men whose business model is bleeding the rich by stealing their offspring and returning them for a ransom amount that is relatively modest for the rich, but a tidy sum for the thieves.  The film provokes the one percent vs 99 percent questions.

I had almost recommended that the second film here be Towards Darkness, another ransom film, this one grittily set in Colombia. It is darker than Secuesto and has a tough, bitter end, where the payoff is bigger than the build up. However, it doesn’t have the charm nor the dark, almost Coen Brotheresque approach that Secuesto brings to the screen. In this case, the God of Fate has a sense of humor, it seems.

Most of us, having been weaned on American films, tend to have victims of kidnappings to be sympathetic characters.  Otherwise, why would we care whether or not they are rescued and reunited with their loving families?  And the movie is usually a minute-by-minute, life-and-death thriller about the rescue itself.  Rapt is something else.

It is French and therefore we might expect it to be stylish and intellectual.  It is. The film sets up moral dilemmas slightly more complex than the effects of serious wealth disparities — jealousy, resentment, and retaliation.  A man who seems to have it all — looks, money, power, social status, taste, a beautiful and loving family, and an exotic lifestyle — is plucked from the streets.  The asking price for his safe return, in this case, is not at all modest.

At a point where most films would begin to unfold the thrilling and or intricate ways the good guys get the victim back, Rapt goes somewhere else.  Much of the victim’s fortune is tied up in the business.  In fact, reporters investigating the juicy story uncover a man who loved to gamble and, who had serious gambling debts.  There was also the matter of a second, secret apartment for his assignations with other women.  And questions arise about his management skills. While the negotiations are under way, the second in command seems to be taking care of business quite well and the board learns he has been doing so for quite some time.  Though the rich victim is physically missing, those around him — family, friends and business associates — discover who he actually is — and are not at all sure that they miss him.  Knowing him, how much do they want him back?

Secuestro Express was released in 2005 and Rapt in 2009.  Both were based to some extent on real-life events.  Both were critically well-received and feel very much in touch with the times.

For your trip to Caracas, remember the Venezuelans love cold beer, the colder the better.  Rum would work as well.  For Paris and the French half?  What is your mood?  If you are in the part of the country still suffering from the heat wave, perhaps a chilled dry white wine.

No comments: