The real-life story of a bus hijacking in northern Greece provides the basic inspiration for “Hostage,” which takes the sensitive issue of Greek-Albanian relations as a starting point and fans out into a largely satisfying human drama. Shot in a style midway between handheld reportage and dreamy reflectiveness, fourth feature by Athens-born, U.K.-educated helmer Constantine Giannaris is his most dramatically rounded to date, and looks likely to snare fest spots in early 2005.
Actual event took place in spring 1999, when a young Albanian, Flamour Pisli, took over an intercity bus and demanded a ransom and safe passage back to his country. Giannaris consciously deviates from some of the facts, giving the overall event and the personal story of the hijacker (here called Elion Senia) equal importance.
For many Greeks, “Albanian” is still a dirty word following a massive immigration of Albanians to Greece after the fall of Albania’s communist government and a concomitant rise in violence and crime within Greece. As soon as Senia (Stathis Papadopoulos) boards the bus in the countryside and holds it up with a grenade and a Kalashnikov, the racial animosity toward him can be palpably felt.
Senia claims he has done nothing wrong during his five years in Greece, but adds he was set up by two Greek cops for drug possession. He simply says, “I want my honor.”
Senia lets most of the passengers get off the bus, and pic appears to be settling down into a straight drama centered on the remaining seven hostages and their captor, as he demands a ransom and the bus trundles toward the Albanian border surrounded by police cars. However, flashbacks start to tell a very different story.
After first being thrown out of Greece (for an unspecified reason), Senia is rejected by his potential in-laws when he tries to marry his g.f. of three years. He steals back into Greece but falls foul of some local cops, with whom he’d been involved in weapons smuggling, when one of them thinks that Senia slept with his wife.
Scattered flashbacks are intertwined with the ongoing hostage drama as well as dream-like sequences centered on the passengers. Among the more compelling of the latter are a wife (Theodora Tzimou) running off with her lover (Yannis Stankoglou), and a druggie (Antonis Ntourakis) who’s missed his supplier. Others are hardly developed at all: A young lesbian (Konstantina Angelopoulou), separated from her lover, and a priest’s daughter (Marilou Kapa-Valeonti), leaving her family, seem tossed into the mix for no dramatic reason.
Still, the film’s general reluctance not to spell everything out in hard-and-fast, three-act terms creates a nicely loose feel. Final section, which starts as the bus crosses the border into Albania, contains a neat twist and, apart from a misjudged scene of Senia’s mom making an over-emotional appeal to her son, has a chilling pragmatism.
Blowup from Super-16 gives the whole movie a sense of grainy immediacy, enhanced by the synthesized music score and echoey, gurgling effects on the soundtrack.