Lion's Den [Leonera] Movie Review

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Riveting, harrowing and thoroughly infused with hope and love, this prison drama is so realistic that it's often difficult to watch, but the characters are so vivid that we have to stay with it. And the journey it takes is remarkable.

Julia (Gusman) can barely remember the night that resulted in two men lying bleeding to death in her flat. As the police take her to jail, they discover that she's pregnant, so she's placed in a maternal cellblock where she'll give birth and be allowed to raise her child for its first four years. She forms a makeshift family with a fellow inmate (Garcia) but, as time passes, Julia's mother (Medeiros) decides that the baby will be better off on the outside with her. And Julia isn't the kind of person who takes anything lying down.

Director Trapero (Familia Rodante) keeps the film earthy and raw from the first frame. He cleverly combines doc-like camera work with some bravura set pieces (the closing tracking shot is heart-stoppingly brilliant). We are thrown into this situation along with Julia; from the questions about what happened that night to being coached by her lawyer on an "official story" of the events, her experience is bewildering and terrifying.

Gusman plays it with an internal ferocity that's often breathtaking (it also seems to have been filmed over the course of her real pregnancy). And as Julia starts to bond with Marta, the film shifts into something very different: a desperate yearning for the power to control her own destiny. All of the performances are grounded and infused with both wry wit and steely willpower.

And the juxtaposition of small children in a grim prison situation is deeply unsettling in all the right ways.

This is filmmaking at its most provocative and thoughtful, grappling with serious issues of justice even as it explores the internal emotions of its characters. There are moments of almost unbearable anguish along the way, as well as scenes of tenderness and compassion. By the end we feel like we have lived through this ordeal with Julia. We understand her inner strength in a horrific situation. And we also feel her unstoppable, raging need for freedom.

Cast & Crew

Director : Pablo Trapero

Producer : Youngjoo Suh, Pablo Trapero

Starring : Martina Gusman, Elli Medeiros, Laura Garcia, , Tomas Plotinsky, Leonardo Sauma

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Comments

Lion's Den [Leonera] Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: 18, 2008

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