Kampusch premiere meets mixed reviews
Unparalleled: Natascha Kampusch at the premiere of 3,096 Days. photographs: samuel kubani/afp/ getty and © constantin film
Critics say it’s voyeuristic. but its makers say the film of Natascha Kampusch’s memoir portrays her as a survivor
On a Vienna street, 15 years ago, a 10-year-old girl in a red jacket was snatched on her way to school and knocked out. Natascha Kampusch woke up confused in a windowless cell beneath the home of her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil.
Eight years of physical and mental torture followed – largely in a room equipped initially with just a toilet and sink – until, in August 2006, the 18-year-old made a break for freedom. Overnight the media propelled Kampusch to fame: she was the girl who lived.
Now 25, Kampusch was again the centre of attention at this week’s premiere, in Vienna, of the film adaptation of her memoir, 3096 Days.
From the big screen, the tear-streaked girl looks directly out at the audience, so desperate and hungry that she promises her captor she will eat whatever she is given. Amelia Pidgeon, a first-time actor, plays Natascha’s younger self, a 10-year-old harbouring hope that her ordeal will soon end.
Three years into Natascha’s imprisonment, the Northern Ireland-born actor Antonia Campbell-Hughes steps in, delivering a disturbing portrait of an emaciated physical wreck on the brink of resigning herself psychologically to her impossible situation.
“The relationship to her captor is very special,” says Campbell-Hughes. “He threatens and protects her in equal measure; he gives her food and withholds it; he torments her and gives her affection.”
Rather than concentrate solely on the claustrophobia of her situation, or bring in too much of the world outside, the film explores the endless, exhausting variations on the daily power play between Kampusch and Priklopil, an unemployed telecoms engineer.
The battle of wills for the upper hand becomes increasingly sexualised, ending in Priklopil’s bed. Whether the real Kampusch used her sexuality as a negotiating chip with her repressed captor is an issue she avoids in her memoir. The film-makers say their decision had her blessing.
Thure Lindhardt, a Danish actor, gives a compelling portrayal of Priklopil, who decides to possess Kampusch after spotting her one day and stalks her until he makes the snatch. “I’m everything for you because I created you,” Priklopil tells his prisoner calmly. “Why should I let you go? I built such a lovely room for you.”
Lindhardt’s Priklopil is the dramatic glue holding the film’s narrative together, effortlessly flicking an unseen switch from concern to charm to violence, lashing out physically and verbally at his terrified captive, ordering her over an intercom to “obey me”.
“Finding the right balance was a challenge so that Priklopil doesn’t come across as a total psychopath or a complete idiot,” says Lindhardt, who found inspiration in the morbid 1980s decor of the Priklopil house, reconstructed in the Bavaria film studios.
“Every object in his house is orderly and clinical. His entire life involves cleaning and repairing,” he says. “He controls his food, his life, and wants to control Natascha in the same way. But it’s not as easy to gain control over a person as a house.”
Victim or survivor?
For Sherry Hormann, the film’s director, the challenge was to maintain a critical distance from a man whom, she says, she would have killed on the spot had he snatched her child. “We tell the story of an abduction without a ransom or political goals, of a man who abducts a girl to make her his,” she says. “It is so sick and unparalleled in its perversion.”
Given the subject matter, 3096 Days is not an easy film to like. Reviews in Germany and Austria have been mixed, with critics wondering what the film has to offer audiences beyond satisfying their voyeuristic curiosity.
The creative team insist the film is about showing Kampusch not as a victim but as a survivor.
After eight years in Priklopil’s clutches, she has by now spent nearly the same amount of time in the grip of various subsections of the media industry. The hype in 2006 around her release and first television interview was followed by repeated probes into the police investigation; then there was a media tour for her memoir. Now Kampusch’s estranged father has published a book raising doubts about his daughter’s version of events.