The incessant yowl of bawling babies is not something you’d expect to hear in your average prison movie. But then, Pablo Trapero’s militantly unsentimental chronicle of life in the maternity wing of an Argentinian women’s prison is no ‘Shawshank Redemption’. Martina Gusman delivers a magnificently understated turn as Julia, locked up on the back of a bizarre murder rap (we never discover the extent of her guilt) and carrying the child of her dead lover. She is our guide on the inside, initially petrified at the prospect of bringing up her child in such grimy and violent surroundings but soon learning to work the intensely restrictive system to her advantage.
Part meticulous character study, part hyperrealist drama, Trapero’s film is as interested in documenting how such an institution functions on a day-to-day basis as he is in presenting the joys and pains of female cohabitation in such a confined space. His film also asks us to question whether it’s right that the young innocents should suffer the same punishment as their errant mothers.