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Lion’s Den

February 26, 2013

Lion’s Den (2008)
Director: Pablo Trapero
Actors: Martina Gusman, Rodrigo Santoro, Laura Garcia

Lion's Den

Synopsis: Twenty-something student, Julia (Martina Gusman), is incarcerated after an incident at her Buenos Aires apartment leaves one man dead and another badly injured. While inside, she gives birth to a son, and brings him up in a special “mothers” wing of the prison. When a testimony over the violent incident goes against her, Julia is sentenced to ten further years in prison, and realising she will have to give up her son for all that time, she goes to extreme measures to remain with him….

Review: This is an absolutely superb drama from Pablo Trapero, which wraps up in its seeming apparatus of a murder thriller and prison saga, a more moving and overarching parable of female maturation and gut-wrenching motherly love.

What I like about the way Trapero sets his drama up is that it’s not absolutely clear whether Julia is actually guilty of the crime of killing the father of her child and wounding his boyfriend, but in a sense, Julia’s legal guilt – or not – isn’t really of interest to the sentiment of the film. That ambiguous crime is merely a means to propel the obviously callow Julia at the beginning of the drama, through a hugely attritional situation where she has to reside in a grimy woman’s jail while she awaits the verdict of her case and gives birth to a child. Trapero never shies away from showing just how awful the jail is: the camera follows the repressive labyrinth of locked doors – we pass at least five – before Julia finds her cell, and the conditions of the jail are irredeemably scummy and terribly overcrowded with Julia at times sharing a room with a fellow mother and her two kids.

This “lion’s den” though – both in the literal way that the prison encases Julia, but also her entrapment by the legal system and the potentially lying boyfriend of her ex-partner – enables Julia to grow from the punky young female at the film’s start, into the ultra-loving, responsible mother by its end, who will stop at nothing – even if it means (spoiler alert) absconding from prison and fleeing overseas – to make sure she brings her son up, and doesn’t rot away in a jail while other people see to that primal task. Martina Gusman’s utterly convincing, physically overwhelming performance, makes incarnate Julia’s all-consuming urge to do right by her son. (February 2013)

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