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CAMP X-RAY & FISHING WITHOUT NETS – BFI London Film Festival 2014
October 23, 2014
The films in the Debate category at this year’s BFI London Film Festival have been selected for their tendency to “rush headfirst and unafraid into some of the stormiest issues of today”. Camp X-Ray and Fishing Without Nets, both listed in this section, keep this promise only in part.
Camp X-Ray is the first feature from Peter Sattler, who takes on writing and directing after many years as graphic designer for several notable films (Walk The Line, The Game Plan, Star Trek, Take Me Home Tonight). Entirely set in Guantanamo, the U.S. prison in Cuba, the story revolves around the unusual relationship between Cole, a rookie guard played by Kristen Stewart, and Ali, a suspected terrorist played by A Separation’s star Payman Maadi.
Cold and indifferent, Cole doesn’t immediately get on well with Ali, who bothers her from the very beginning. Their quarrel over the presence of a Harry Potter book in the prison’s library is an original (although quite lengthy) device to introduce the two characters and set the premises for their relationship; it is also one of the few striking sequences in the film. Despite Sattler’s meticulous and researched approach to creating a plausible and realistic prison, Guantanamo is nothing but a setting for the conflict between the two main characters.
This choice creates two issues that drastically impair the film. The first one regards the oddity of dealing with highly controversial Guantanamo Bay with a detached point of view. The U.S. prison is the elephant in the room that Sattler chooses to ignore; by his own admission, he didn’t want to alienate half of the audience by taking a position pro or against it. The film fails to address the very context it’s set in, creating a forced, unsatisfactory void.
The second issue concerns the casting. Whereas Maadi is a flexible and engaging actor, Kristen Stewart hasn’t yet fully matured since her Twilight years. Much of the dissatisfaction left by the film is due to her credibility as lead actress, especially in the main storyline and her exchanges with Ali, but also in the subplot involving her army superiors. For a film that bets so much on characters, Camp X-Ray hits the mark only partially.
FISHING WITHOUT NETS
Fishing Without Nets was announced as Cutter Hodierne’s response to Captain Phillips, the drama by Paul Greengrass that premiered at last year’s London Film Festival. The two films have a very similar subject: a pirate story set in modern Somali waters.
Whereas Greengrass’s feature was a high-tension thriller, told from the point of view of the American cargo being hijacked, Fishing Without Nets switches the perspective, having the pirates as protagonists. Released officially in the U.S. at the beginning of October, Hodierne’s first feature has struggled to convince audiences and critics, and feels more like a missed opportunity.
The film might not star celebrities of Tom Hanks’s caliber, but all its actors portray their characters very convincingly, especially lead actor Abdikani Muktar. His character, Abdi, is a Somali fisherman who joins a local group of pirates to support his family. The struggle between his will to keep his traditional, honest job, and the lure of making easy money with the pirates is a perfect example of the social fatalism that distinguishes the film.
Fishing Without Nets reiterates the assumption that most men are forced into piracy, but it doesn’t dwell enough on the social or cultural causes of this phenomenon; all the focus is on the hijack, the struggle for power between the pirates, their disorganisation and inability to deal with things bigger than them. Although the plot significantly differs from Captain Phillips, and is certainly not as compelling or suspenseful, Fishing Without Nets mirrors the American drama quite efficiently; however, it lacks in contextualisation and oversimplifies its most important and high-potential aspect.