Director: Tobias Lindholm
Director Tobias Lindholm is perhaps one of my favourite filmmakers working in Denmark today. His work often features compelling depictions of high-stakes, life-or-death situations – but Lindholm is most remarkable for his ability to find drama and suspense in the quieter scenes surrounding the action too. His most recent film, A War, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Feature in 2015. For my entry for Denmark, however, I’ve chosen to look slightly further back than that – to his previous film Kapringen – “A Hijacking”.
Kapringen cuts between characters in two settings, hundreds of miles apart. The first is the Danish merchant vessel Rozen, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Our protagonist aboard the ship is Mikkel, the cook, through whom we are introduced to the rest of the crew in the opening scene as he serves breakfasts and coffees. After a long voyage Mikkel is anxious to return to his family in Denmark, but his future is about to become much less certain.
Fans of Game of Thrones can be forgiven for not recognising the actor playing Mikkel, since here he shows a warmth and sentimentality which is starkly different to Euron Greyjoy. Ironically, in Kapringen, he finds himself the victim of a pirate attack instead of the perpetrator. When Somali hijackers board the Rozen, Mikkel and rest of the crew are forced below deck at gunpoint and separated into groups to prevent organised resistance. We stay locked to Mikkel’s perspective throughout the hijacking, and are denied subtitles for the pirates’ Arabic dialogue – keeping us in the dark alongside him. Mikkel is forced to cook meals for his captors at gunpoint, while they make themselves at home aboard the ship, and send their ransom demands to the shipping company back in Denmark. Thus begins a hostage situation with seemingly no end in sight, where a single false move could mean the difference between living and dying for Mikkel and the other crew-members.
Meanwhile, at the shipping company’s headquarters in Copenhagen, negotiations to release the hostages are underway. The hijackers have demanded millions of dollars, but an experienced hostage negotiator explains to the board members that giving them the requested amount will simply beget further demands. Despite advice to communicate with the hijackers through a neutral third party, the CEO of the company, Peter Ludvigsen, feels a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of his crew, and is determined to negotiate with the pirates directly himself.
The film thus establishes a compelling structure, alternating scenes between the two stories. Title cards appear every so often to remind the viewer how many days the crew have been held captive. Aboard the ship, the Danish and the Somalis construct an uneasy living arrangement, and even something of a strained friendship in a few cases, as both sides wait impatiently for a deal to be made so that they can return home. In Denmark, an increasingly disheveled and desperate Peter sits in an executive board room with the pirates’ leader on the phone, struggling to reach a nonviolent outcome. Peter’s insistence on running negotiations himself is either an admirable display of loyalty to his employees, or an act of foolish naiveté . As time goes on, frustrations mount, tensions become more fraught, and the odds of a peaceful resolution start to dwindle with alarming rapidity.
This genre of hostage thriller is perhaps best known to Western audiences through films like Captain Phillips, or more recently Toa Fraser’s 6 Days. In my opinion, however, Kapringen surpasses both of them in terms of suspense – and that’s true whether it’s in the dingy, tight confines of a below-decks cabin aboard the Rozen, or in a brightly lit conference room in a Copenhagen office building. The film’s relentless pace, whip-smart script, and earnest performances create a very tangible sense that real lives are on the line, and that an explosion of violence is only ever a hair’s breadth away.