2009, Movies

Cellule 211 (2009, Daniel Monzon)

The “good guy in a bad place” (i.e. a hero stuck in a prison) is a tired story for many reasons, but perhaps the most annoying aspect is that, usually, Our Hero is recently arrived (in this case, in the prison) and yet, somehow, manages to befriend the/a leader immediately. It’s so dumb and such a cliche of these types of movies. (I want to know, for instance, why the leader of the prisoners is so desperate to be this guy’s friend?) The movie might be better than that trope but it’s pretty hard to put it to the side.


This is a prison film that uses the “good guy in a bad place” thing (think Escape from New York among many others) to try to tell both a new spin on the story and try to make some kind of message movie about conditions in Spanish prisons. The mixture is odd, to put it mildly.

The film tries to do things differently than some of these films, by making use of modern technology – digital cameras, cable TV, cell phones – to tell the story and using non-professional actors for some of the prisoners but it’s pretty clunky in its execution. For example: the “one” camera that is left on in the prison can see a whole hell of a lot of stuff, including things it is likely physically impossible to see – and it feels as though there must be other cameras given what we see through the “surveillance footage.” Also, at times, media is used to tell us who certain people are, which feels lazy and also over-done.

Aspects of the riot and the management of the riot feel at times both realistic and totally unrealistic and I’m not sure the film strikes a very good balance. The prisoners both have too little knowledge and too much, and the guards do things that make sense and things that don’t make any sense and would likely never be allowed in this situation. Without cataloguing everything it’s hard to convey but it does feel like they drift too far into a fantastical world.

I appreciate the effort but I think this film could have used a greater grounding in reality – starting with using a less tired conceit to tell this story. I just don’t think it works


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