A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was participating in Caroline’s World Cinema Series. This project involves watching movies from all over the world and the ultimate goal is to watch at least one movie from every country. For my first stop on my world tour, I visited Spain. The movie Cell 211 is a gripping tale about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The movie, directed by Daniel Monzon, is a Spanish prison flick starring Alberto Ammann, Luis Tosar, and Antonio Resines.
It starts out with Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) touring a prison with two prison guards. Juan is starting work as a prison guard on the following day and he wanted to make a good impression by going the day before he started to show that he has initiative. During his visit, there is an accident and he is knocked unconscious. Right when this happens, Malamadre (Luis Tosar), a leader of a violent group of inmates in the prison, takes over the prison. Malamadre had learned that Basque terrorists affiliated with the ETA were being held in the same prison. He takes these prisoners as hostages since he knows the Spanish government will not want to infuriate the ETA (a Basque nationalist and separatist organization) and uses them for his own advantage. He is angry over the deplorable conditions inside the prison, including prison guards who are abusive and the lack of health care for injured and sick inmates.
The two guards that are with Juan when he is knocked unconscious are fearful for their own lives and leave Juan in Cell 211. Juan wakes up and hears the violence outside the cell door. Quickly he assesses the situation and realizes that his only chance for survival is to convince the other prisoners that he is a prisoner as well. Before he is discovered, he gets rid of his belt and other objects that no prisoner would be allowed to keep. Slowly he gains the trust of Malamadre and becomes a key player in the prison riot.
This is an intense movie, not just for the violence, but for the economic and political issues raised. I found the issue of taking a group of terrorists as hostages to use them as a bargaining chip against the Spanish government fascinating. And it lends great insight into how powerful the group was at the time since the government did not want to anger the ETA. It also explores how prisoners of violent crimes should be treated while being incarcerated.
The film won eight Goya Awards (Spain’s national film awards), including Best Director, Best Actor for Tosar, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. It was intense from beginning to end. The violence at points was hard to watch, but given the subject matter, I don’t know if it would have been a powerful movie without it.
If you would like to read all the reviews from all over the world, please visit Caroline’s page. They are adding up quickly!