Alone In Four Walls

Alone In Four Walls


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Strange title. These boys are not alone. They are locked up in a Russian reform school. The dormitories are big enough to take 20 or more and privacy is neither encouraged, nor available.

First impressions are so positive, you ask yourself, is this all? The boys are polite, well spoken, neatly dressed, respectful and obedient. Many are murderers. Almost all are thieves. You don’t meet their teachers, nor interview their guards, if they have any. There is never a violent incident, nor disagreement amongst inmates, nor incident of bullying. Teenage angst has no outlet here and sex is never mentioned. A younger boy might cry in his bed, but no one mocks him. At the end, we are told that 91% of these kids will reoffend and land up in prison. After watching Alexandra Westmeier’s film, it seems hardly believable.

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She concentrates on a small number of the boys and, to a certain extent, tells their stories. The main protagonist is a calm, intelligent, good looking 15-year-old, who battered one of his mates to death with a breeze block when he was 13. “I couldn’t smile. I never smiled," he says. “I couldn’t talk.” Now he does both. He speaks about the crime dispassionately, without embarrassment, like describing an incident in a tea room.

The film is riveting, especially when the boys are talking about themselves and when Westmeier goes outside and meets some of the parents. This is where real life meets a controlled institution. Suddenly it is possible to understand where the problems lie and how hope might fade once the boys return to the deprivation of their home lives.

If this is a true representation of what Russian reform schools can achieve, it is remarkable. However, questions remain. Hanging on the wire.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2008
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Inside a juvenile Russian reform school.

Director: Alexandra Westmeier

Writer: Alexandra Westmeier

Year: 2007

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Germany

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