Dir: Jim Threapleton. UK . 2007. 77mins.
Extraordinary Rendition is a direct and powerful treatment of a subject that has caused huge indignation in the west - namely the kidnapping of a suspected terrorist and his transfer to a country that allows torture. Clearly made quickly and shot on a small budget, the film has an impact that belies its modest origins. The film is generally inventively shot and packs real punch.
Bound to provoke debate and to generate plenty of discussion, the film may nonetheless prove a tricky theatrical proposition. The graphic torture sequences (including water boarding, scarring of the fingers and vicious beatings) make grim watching. The narrative is sometimes rough-edged and melodramatic. The use of sound effects and music can be overstated. However, this is much more than agit-prop. Considerable artistry has gone into the storytelling. Threapleton borrows ideas from horror movies, thrillers and prison dramas like Midnight Express. As in Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross' The Road To Guantanamo, he attempts to show an ordinary individual caught up in bizarre and nightmarish events that are beyond his comprehension.
Inventive distributors may be able to piggyback on Rendition, the much bigger budgeted Gavin Hood film, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which broaches similar themes. A world premiere in competition in Locarno, Extraordinary Rendition is screening as a British Gala at the Edinburgh Film Festival and looks likely to secure further festival play. Whatever else, the film, his debut feature, will serve as a useful calling card for Threapleton while stirring up debate about an issue that remains hugely controversial.
Out jogging on the streets of London. Zaafir (Omar Berdouni) stops to show a stranger directions on a map. While his back is turned, he is apprehended, pulled into a car and driven to an airport. There, he is drugged and whisked away to an undisclosed location. Threapleton effectively contrasts the banal domesticity of the opening scenes, in which we see the man discussing who will cook dinner with his girlfriend, with the horrific events that follow.
As Zaafir languishes in captivity, he thinks of his life as a teacher in London and of the circumstances leading up to his kidnappings. Among his chief oppressors is a prison warder played in menacing, understated fashion by Andy Serkis (the Lord Of The Rings actor who also appears in equally intimidating groove in another low-budget feature, Gary Love's Sugarhouse.) The interrogation scenes have a warped, dream-like quality reminiscent of the scenes in Michael Radford's version of Nineteen Eighty-Four in which Winston Smith is tormented by the arch-inquisitor O'Brien. The dreamy flashbacks to his life with Ewa (Ania Sowinski) also rekindle memories of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Meanwhile, the film also serves as a cautionary tale about the information age. What incriminates Zaafir are emails that the authorities and personal details that the authorities misinterpret.
The incidents depicted here all have some basis in reality. Amnesty International offered advice to the production and provided Threapleton with contacts. The story was loosely inspired by the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian computer specialist who had been a victim of 'rendition,' although the director has stated that the film isn't based on a single incident. He also insists that the story isn't meant simply as a polemical docu-drama, but also reads as a dystopian thriller in the vein of Orwell and Kafka.
Berdouni is convincing as the benighted protagonist, forced to endure unbelievable cruelty. Some of the more stylized effects (for example, the accelerated cloud sequences) hover on the self-indulgent and the postscript is heavy handed.
However, the shooting style is fluid and free-flowing but this roughness is one of the film's strengths: there are flashbacks and flashforwards. The filmmaker uses handheld camera and switches between colour and sepia-toned footage. Threapleton's method was to develop the story through extensive workshops with his cast and the film was reportedly made without a script.
High Point Films
James Edward Baker