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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 June 2006

Review

Secuestro Express

Directed by Jonathon Jakubowicz

One of the most controversial films in Venezuela in many years, Secuestro Express was made by a director who is rumoured to support reactionary opposition parties in the country. The vice-president of Venezuela has criticised this film for glorifying "everything that is base in society". Its supporters say it gives a graphic and realistic description of the division between rich and poor.

Kevin Simpson

This is one of the most violent films I have seen in my life. Is Jakubowicz a Latin American Tarantino as some of the more pompous critics describe him? Not a chance on the basis of this film. Tarantino's films have an air of fantasy about them, which partially takes the edge off the blood and gore. However, this film starts brutally and gets more so with each scene.

The film opens with a panoramic view of the capital city, Caracas. The ranchos cling to the hills around the city, shacks packed on top of each other, perched on hilltops seemingly threatening to overwhelm the skyscrapers and more affluent buildings towards the city centre. These scenes are an allegory of what happens next.

A rich couple's night of hedonistic clubbing is overcome by a kidnapping gang from the ranchos. Carla and Martin are taken by their kidnappers after leaving the night club in order to demand ransom from their parents - portrayed as arrogant members of the elite whose lives in luxury are shattered by their children's capture.

Some of the scenes are beyond belief. At one stage, Martin is forced out of the car by his captors to withdraw money from an ATM machine in a back alley. Another gangster attempts to rob him and gets shot dead by Martin's kidnapper who says "He is mine"!

The gang hauls the two kidnap victims around the city, dropping off to buy drugs and expensive Rolex watches. They finally hole up in a city centre skyscraper to negotiate the ransom of between $20 - $40,000 - a small amount for rich parents but equivalent to years of income for someone from the ranchos. There is no halt to the spiralling violence at any moment in the film.

The curiosity which has led to it breaking box office records in Venezuela is probably partially media-inspired but also because it provides an opportunity for Venezuelans to see the rich parasites in their society receive rough justice.

Nervous

In reality the Chavez regime has little to be nervous about this film; it is the Venezuelan super-rich, who travel around the city in SUVs and helicopters, that should feel decidedly twitchy about it.

This soulless film glorifies gratuitous violence of all kinds. When it does make worthwhile comment on the huge gulf between rich and poor, this is largely swamped in an orgy of gunshots, breaking bones or drug-induced verbal outpourings.

Critics' comparisons between Secuestro Express and City of God (about life in the Brazilian favelas) are completely incorrect. The latter film, while realistically portraying the struggle for survival and violence in the ranchos, is set against a background that allows the viewer to draw conclusions about the wider social context of the individual stories portrayed there.

In Secuestro Express, one of the main conclusions the viewer is forced to draw is that the only response of the poor to grinding poverty and semi-starvation is to turn to violent crime. This is what makes this film reactionary and wide of the mark - especially in Venezuela, which has seen massive mobilisations of the working class in defence of their conditions and mass politicisation.

Towards the movie's violent end, Carla complains to one of her kidnappers: "I work in a hospital and help the poor every day and you treat me like this". Her captor replies: "When half the city is knee-deep in shit and you're rolling around in an expensive car, how do you expect them not to hate you?"

But farce then overtakes this glimpse of realism when the same kidnapper pays over his share of the ransom to his two partners to ensure that Carla is released without being shot dead. And given the brutality of the characters, farce is transformed into a charade when the same kidnapper comes back to save Carla from certain death at the hands of corrupt police who pretend to rescue her at the sight of her release.

Should you go and see it? Well, if that's the kind of thing you like then go ahead. But beware - you have been warned!

 

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In The Socialist 22 June 2006:


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Secuestro Express


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