Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The verite approach means that the film has a fragmented feel that would have benefited from a tighter edit but it has plenty of interesting things to say" | Photo: Courtesy of DocFest

Pedro Speroni steps inside a maximum security prison in Buenos Aires for this intimate portrait of cell life that also doubles as a snapshot of a wider social picture of life outside its walls.

The verite approach means that the film - also captured at close quarters by cinematographer Santiago Tróccoli - has a fragmented feel that would have benefited from a tighter edit but it has plenty of interesting things to say both about the dynamics of jails and the push and pull of life that has put these men there in the first place.

Among the sea of faces in the clean but cramped space, several emerge as key players. Among them is Iván, who has the sort of early Marlon Brando look that could put him in movies but who is determined to forge a boxing career once he gets out. Urging him on at the punchbag is Mr Artaza - an long-termer, who seems to be viewed largely as a sort of kindly prison godfather, keen to encourage the younger inmates to get on the straight and narrow while seemingly institutionalised to such a point that one of his fellow robbers remembers him talking of being "homesick" when on the outside.

As the day-to-day politics and activities of prison life unfold - from laundry to football games - other lives surface, including a back story to a killing that, like many tales here, sprang from a lifetime of trauma and violence. Patterns emerge, particularly considering fractured families and domestic violence that point to wider societal issues that drive men to crime. The remains a feeling of indecision about some of the directorial choices, however - a desire for a bigger picture that denies us details that might have given things more emotional weight, emphasised by the fly-on-the-wall approach which means the men are just filmed as they are, rather than being asked anything or speaking directly to the camera. IMDB suggests that Speroni currently has another documentary in post-production, focusing on Iván's life on the outside that suggests the director also wanted to take a deeper dive into a single life than in does here.

Despite its weaker elements, in terms of mood, Speroni's film has a very different vibe from many prison documentaries, which often focus on the brutality and hopelessness of the situation. He, instead, captures a camaraderie which, though often built on shocking incidents in the past, has morphed into something more positive in prison, as many of the men consider a different path ahead.

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2021
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Prison portrait of a maximum-security jail in Argentina.

Director: Pedro Speroni

Writer: Pedro Speroni

Starring: Oscar Artaza, Iván Bilbao, Pablo Moyano, Laio Pereyra, Oscar Artaza, Iván Bilbao, Pablo Moyano, Laio Pereyra

Year: 2021

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: Argentina


Doc/Fest 2021

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