Review by Sean Boelman
The kidnapping thriller is a particularly prevalent subgenre because the thought of being separated so violently from a loved one is unimaginable. Teodora Mihai’s La Civil, which screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Festival de Cannes, is an entirely effective, if also straightforward, addition to the genre.
The film follows a mother who takes matters into her own hands after her teenage daughter is kidnapped and the authorities refuse to do anything about it. And while this sounds like a run-of-the-mill revenge thriller on paper, it shares more in common with a subtle drama than a movie like Taken.
In the movie’s nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime, there isn’t much in the way of action, the film instead opting to build suspense through anticipation. Much of the movie’s anxiety will come from the way in which the film explores the more bureaucratic parts of dealing with a kidnapping. These may be less exciting than the action, but they are arguably even more frustrating.
There is a lot to be read into here about the incompetencies of the Latin American police system, and that is where the movie thrives. Although the main antagonists here are obviously the people who kidnapped the protagonist’s daughter, the police who are so passive are the more insurmountable obstacle.
Audiences will immediately side with the protagonist because of what she is going through, but there isn’t a ton of depth to her beyond that. It’s not a character study, but it would have been nice to have more development to the character other than her (very strong) motivation to protect her family.
That said, actress Arcelia Ramírez makes the most out of her role and delivers a genuinely brilliant performance. The level of emotion she is able to milk out of the character sells everything that the film needs to work, making up for some of the shortcomings that it has in the writing department.
Mihai attempts to utilize a visual style that is a mixture of quiet and grittier tendencies, and for the most part, it works. The directorial decisions are made to keep the viewer invested in the story for the entirety of its relatively long runtime, and it succeeds in doing so with only a few exceptions.
La Civil does fall victim to a few conventional trappings, but for the most part, it’s a riveting kidnapping thriller. Great acting and solid writing allow this to be a great entry in an overstuffed genre.
La Civil screened at the Cannes Film Festival, which ran from July 7-17.