Dir/scr. ConstantineGiannaris. Gre-Tur. 2004. 102mins

The two Albanians whorecently hijacked a bus in Athens probably did not know that they werere-enacting the screenplay of Constantine Giannaris' Hostage, itselfbased on a similar real-life incident that took place in 1999.

As told through the eyes ofan disoriented and angry young Albanian immigrant, this is not quite thethriller its title seems to hint at but more an exploration of the tenseGreek-Albanian relations that expands into a commentary on the immigrantexperience.

Possible comparison could bemade with the acclaimed Brazilian documentary Bus 174 - each has at itscentre a disenfranchised young man and passes comment on police and mediainvolvement - although Giannaris' feature works chronologically towards itsclimactic ending rather than analysing the incident in retrospect.

Beyond home, where it opensin March, it is more likely to please festival jurors than sales agents and isbest suited to arthouses who will appreciate its political slant.

Shooting in Super 16 for adocumentary feel, Hostage starts as a genre piece, introducing eachcharacter as they board the bus. Senia (Stathis Papadopoulos), the hijacker,once he makes his intentions known, is initially depicted as a stock villain, wavinghis weapon threateningly and making the usual demands (high ransom, safepassage home).

But as the bus keeps rollingon, so Giannaris steps back to show that Senia is ultimately as much of avictim, if not more so, as his captives. Though most of the ensuing actiontakes place on the vehicle, a series of flashbacks reveal the hijacker's past.

Deported from Greece forunspecified reasons, Senia was slighted by his girlfriend's family back home inAlbania, returned illegally to Greece, then smuggled arms across the borderwith several lawmen. But he was beaten up and lost all his money when he madethe wife of one co-conspirator pregnant. Hijacking the bus, he believes, willnot only secure him the cash that is rightfully his but also punish his tormentorsby revealing their crimes.

If Hostage initiallyopens like a Mediterranean version of Speed, any such assumptions soondisappear. Both script and direction are too loose to sustain any momentum,while timid attempts to sketch in supporting characters (the housewife leavingher husband and child for a young lover, the drug addict losing control when hemisses this fix, the African escaping massacres back home to cross into"civilised Europe") lack depth.

Instead, Giannaris choosesto underline the duplicity and corruption of the Greek police, theinsensitivity of the media, and widespread Greek discrimination againstAlbanians to explain, if not justify, Senia's actions and frustration.

Some audiences will balk athis lack of interest in extracting more excitement from the events themselvesand may squirm uncomfortably at certain grandstanding moments such as whenSenia's mother pleads with him to surrender.

But just as many willappreciate Giannaris' resistance to a lazy commercial approach and not fail tonotice his attempt to deal with the causes of urban terrorism and the possiblerole of the West.

Prod cos: AC Giannaris Films, Highway Prod., Samarsik Samatlar
Int'l sales:
The Greek FilmCentre
Gre dist:
Playtime Releasing
Exec prod:
Nikos Nikoletos
Yorgos Likyiardopoulos,Constantine Giannaris, Baran Seyhan
Panayotis Theofanopoulos
Ioanna Spiliopoulou
Prod des:
Maria Konomi
Nikos Patrelakis
Main cast:
Satis Papadopoulos,Theodora Tzimou, Yannis Stankoglou, Minas Hatsisavvas, Arto Apartian,Konstantina Angelopoulou