Film review: Lion’s Den

Posted on: 17 February 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews Pablo Trapero’s powerful and moving portrait of life onside a women’s prison in Buenos Aires.

A powerful and moving portrait of life onside a women’s prison in Buenos Aires is provided by Pablo Trapero in his fifth feature Lion’s Den (released on the 26 March).

Julia wakes up beaten and covered in blood to discover two bodies in her flat-  that of her unconscious boyfriend and his dead lover. Unsure of what has happened the night before, she is arrested and detained in a women’s prison.

Pregnant with the dead man’s baby, she lives amongst other female convicts and their families - women here are allowed to keep their children in prison until they are four years of age.

As the months pass, Julia is befriended by Maria, her cellmate, which soon transforms into a relationship. Shortly after giving birth to Tomas, Julia’s mother appears, initially benevolent, but it is not long before her interest in Tomas becomes clear. When he has to visit a doctor, she offers to take the child, promising his return by the end of the day. His prolonged absence soon worries Julia, who finds out that her mother has decided to keep the child until Julia is released from prison. Julia’s angered response causes a riot in her cellblock and armed guards are sent in to quell the prisoners. It seems the wheels have now been set in motion from which there is no turning back.

The issues of motherhood, solitude, love, confinement and hope are skilfully interwoven into the unpredictable, heartfelt story which avoids the clichés of the generic ‘women behind bars’ exploitation film. Director Pablo Trapero draws a compelling performance from Martina Gusmen (his real life wife) as Julia, a woman forced to cope with pregnancy, birth and the pressures of rearing a child while incarcerated for a crime she cannot remember committing.

In short this movie is a real eye opener!

By Laurence Green

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