Sunday, December 20, 2009

Let’s Go to Prison! Trapero's LION'S DEN, Edel's THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX

Two fascinating movies – fascinating especially because they will seem so for-
eign to most Ameri-
can eyes – came to DVD two weeks back and are very much worth watching and ruminating over. Both deal with prison, in Germany and in Ar-
gentina, yet neither quite fits the term “prison movie,” al-
though LION’S DEN comes closer to that genre than does THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX.
Baader Meinhof deals with the RAF (no, not the UK’s Air Force but the Red Army Fac-
tion), a surprisingly popular (if the movie is to be believed, and in general and in many specifics, I think that it is) left-wing, radical terrorist group that came into being during the late 1960s and lasted into the 70s. The group, seemingly made up of as many wo-
men as men, bombed, kidnapped and as-
sassinated a number of important people and/or places across Europe. Its goal, a-
mong other things, was to stop West Ger-
many (where the RAF began) & Europe from assisting the USA in its useless and murderous Vietnam War, a good one so far as this re-
viewer is concerned. As usual, ends don’t always justify means.

The movie succeeds at giving us rapid-fire information on how the disparate group came together and how new generations of converts came aboard, as older member crashed and burned. Whether this is completely true, I cannot say, but the scene near the beginning (above), as a peaceful group, protesting the visit to Germany by the Shaw of Iran are set upon first by the Shaw’s own group and then by German police, beaten and in one case simply shot, is imminently believable in showing us how some of those protesters came to realize that they must mimic the methods of the police. This scene also helps us identify, at least early on, with the RAF. But as the terrorist acts build and multiply, this identification lessens considerably.

The arguments between members, while making use of much political jargon of the time, also ring true, and make us understand that these positions were extremely important to the RAF (one of them being not to kill innocent working class citizens – which happened in the bombing of German publishing house Springer-Verlag). The final third of the film finds a number of the RAF members in prison awaiting trial, and this section maintains interest due to the differences between the German prison system and our own, and from the way the members interact during this time – still arguing and fighting but also finally taking more “permanent” steps.

The film, directed by Uli Edel (shown in black-and-white, just below the poster, top) is full of action, violence, nudity and sex – which seems to have put off some critics around the globe. But if ever a group warranted this approach, it was the RAF, and god knows, all this helps the film’s 2-1/2 hour running time to speed by. The cast is a good one, too, with Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu (at left, two photos up), Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Lara probably the best-known on our shores.


The Argentine film Lion's Den, on the other hand, features no performers you’ll probably have ever heard of -- which is all to the good as concerns making the movie seem realistic and documentary-
like. In it, a young woman wakens in something of a stupor, looking bruised and bloodied; she showers, still in that stupor, and goes to work. Later, at her job, when her head begin to bleed, she

returns home to find her roommates dead and wounded. She calls the police, but with no suspects other than herself on tap, it’s off to prison with her.

From this point, the film -- directed by Pablo Trapero (shown at right, who made the very under-seen Rolling Family) -- becomes the story of the prisoner, Julia, beautifully played by Martina Gusman (below, center, and above on poster), beginning from a state of haziness then moving into anger, resignation and finally acceptance and growth. It turns out Julia has mother problems, and we meet that mother soon enough. Doing some kind of penance for her earlier abandonment of her daughter, mom ingratiates herself with the newly-found Julia, who herself is pregnant. Argentine law decrees that pregnant women prisoners can give birth and keep their children with them in prison up to the age of four. So we follow Julia and her cellblock-mates as they bond, raise their children together and become “family.”

All the while, Julia, certain of her innocence in any murder, tries to persuade the court of this, and the look inside the justice system in Argentina that the movie proffers seems both more and less fair than ours here in the USA. A number of twists, none of them predictable but all of them believable, keep the plot moving along, and the film’s ending seems particularly thoughtful and expansive. Lion’s Den compares to no other film I can readily recall. It is definitely worth a watch.

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