Maybe you’ve woken up early one morning and felt completely hazy regarding the previous evening’s events. Hopefully, you’ve never experienced a rude awakening like the one Julia (Gusman) endures in this drama’s opening moments: She’s roused by her alarm clock to find herself mysteriously smeared with blood and in the presence of two cut-up bodies. By the time the cops have taken her into custody, we realize that she’s also several months pregnant. Julia is sentenced to serve time in a separate ward for incarcerated matriarchs; as time passes, we watch this confused convict learn how to parent in the pokey and, oddly, mature under the care of her cell-block sorority. Then Julia’s son is prematurely taken away. This development, as you might imagine, does not sit well with her.
There’s every reason to think that this unflinching, yet ultimately humane, take on the women-in-prison flick will equate motherhood or Latin American working-class life with being locked up. That Argentine director Pablo Trapero (Rolling Family) doesn’t opt for obvious social allegories is admirable, though it also means he’s blowing a rich opportunity for big-picture social commentary. But what we get instead is arguably more compelling: a portrait of a subculture whose members take pride in walking their kids to the penitentiary’s pre-K class.—David Fear
Opens Fri; IFC. Find showtimes