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Film Critics: Today, December 10, nominations from San DiegoFCS, North TexasFCA and San FranciscoFCC.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Leonera (Lion’s Den)


What do you expect from a women prison film? Whatever you do I believe you will be able to see it in this movie but with a Latin American touch. What makes this movie out of the ordinary is that everything happens in a sort of surreal maternity ward that at times really looks more like a kindergarten than a prison; but also great performance by Martina Gusman and because for more than half the movie has a documentary look and feel that absolutely makes this movie not your regular female prison movie. This is not to say that what you will be able to see is not harsh, raw and sometimes disturbing as definitively it is.

This Pablo Trapero movie is somehow mesmerizing as you can’t take your eyes from the screen especially when the story goes inside the prison, which by the way were filmed inside real Argentina prisons with real guards and female prisoners. Some situations may be cliché (like girls fights, naked showers, aggressive lesbian unrequited approaches, etc.) but I find that here these situations look and feel like raw realism instead of a dramatization of events and that’s why not only scenes are not pretty or dramatic but also become like a detailed document of life within a prison ward not often shown in the screen.

The film tells the story of Julia that wakes up to a room full of blood but as she was in a zombie state does not notice anything and goes to work or university, as she was a student. When she comes back home after work, she finds her boyfriend Nahuel dead body and Nahuel's boyfriend Ramiro still breathing. She goes into total shock, as she does not recall a thing. Both Julia and Ramiro are arrested and sent to preventive prison until their case is officially reviewed. But Julia is pregnant and she’s has to go to the maternity ward.

So you have the story that gives no answers about a woman accused and convicted for a murder that you will never know if she did it or not. You also have the story of high betrayal by Julia’s mother (that abandoned her but now comes back) and Ramiro that seems was not only Nahuel’s boyfriend but also Julia’s lover. Then also you have the story of how Julia survived inside the prison thanks to Marta who becomes her lover and in many ways her savior. But the main story is about a upper middle class young woman that ends up in jail with fellow prisoners very different to her, does not want her baby, as soon as the son is born maternal instincts prevail and she becomes a true lioness that wants and protects her son no matter what she needs to do.

As I mentioned, more than half the movie looks and feels like a documentary, but as soon as Marta leaves the prison the film changes and becomes a movie with a clear dramatic narrative that unfortunately resolves the story in a sort of fairy tale way; but after all you watched you really appreciate the “happy” ending that eases the ride into the mostly claustrophobic scenes construction with great camera work inside the prison.

Definitively this is a lesbian interest story but obviously is not dramatic –like in Bad Girls-, is not well developed as is not the main story (but it is essential to the plot), and is not pretty to watch as looks and feels more real than fictional. So with all that happens in the movie I believe that is not for general audiences that enjoy the lesbian interest genre. Still I definitively recommend this movie to some of my known readers.

The movie as a movie impressed me for the attention to details, above average outdoors and indoors cinematography, a pace that goes from slow to not slow according to the storytelling style, good editing, some great framed scenes, great children songs instead of ambient music and an outstanding closing scene that is just beautiful to watch.

The film premiered in competition for the Golden Palm at 2008 Cannes and since then has been collecting many honors including winning the Jury Special Prize, the SIGNIS Award at the Havana fest, with Martina Gusman winning Best Newcomer Actress at the 2008 Premio Sur and very recently the FIPRESCI Award for Best Actress in the 2009 Palm Springs fest. The movie was Argentina official submission to the Oscars.

I cannot say that I liked this movie, as this movie is not one to be liked when tells such a complex real situation about women giving birth inside a prison and keeping the child imprisoned with them. This situation is a true dilemma with a difficult taking sides decision. But definitively I do recommend the movie to those that are familiar with Latin American cinema and to those that dare to watch a well constructed film about an unusual women prison story.

Enjoy!!!

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