leonera

Leonera (The Lion's Den, 2008) has received more international press than usual for an Argentine film due to being part of the official selection at Cannes. This afternoon Ulrika and I finally got to see it.

For a film set in a woman's prison in Argentina, it was a lot more uplifting that expected. And thankfully held back on the 'drama,' extending the camera lens over four years.

Julia has her son Tomas in the maternity wing of a prison in the north-eastern tropical region of Argentina. It's undeniably grime but there are no stereotypical bullies or baddies, either amongst the mostly female guards, or the inmates. Instead the film portrays the day-by-day adjustments and struggles of the women as they make the best of it. Maté is shared, as is the care of their children. The women cook, shower, do laundry, argue, cry, even laugh a little.

When Julia returns to the wing with Tomas for the first time, both she and her tiny newborn baby are fingerprinted (or, in the case of Tomas, foot-printed). This scene is in the trailer below and was one of the moments that most affected me; the innocence of tiny feet jarring with the institutionalization of mother and child. The endless cycle of documents, fingerprinting and officials also reminded me of my own - thankfully limited - encounters with Argentine bureaucracy.

Amidst the routine, come birthday parties, goodbyes and celebrations. As fireworks scatter light across the dense black sky, the women and their children laugh and cheer as Santa Nöel dances along the barrier wall, dressed in red and sparkling like the fireworks around her.

The official site gives a useful synopsis and details of reviews. And you can see the trailer (without subtitles) here:

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