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Cell 211
(Celda 211)
Directed by Daniel Monzón
Spain, 2009
Cornerhouse, 17 July 2011

Cell 211

Not too difficult at all to see how, in Spain, this film has been such a strong critical and commercial success.

It is a good, old-fashioned, tough as rivets, made with girders, prison drama.

The set-up is that a guy, Juan (Alberto Ammann), who’s shortly to start work as a prison guard, is being shown around the place beforehand when a riot breaks out.  Once the dust settles, he finds himself on the wrong side of the bars and must pretend to be a prisoner to survive.  There then follows a game of cat and mouse – compromises, apparent bonding and uncertain alliances – in order to allay suspicion.  Can Juan get out of the maelstrom alive?  What if he ‘goes native’ and switches sides?

What’s terrific about the film is the way the tension is relentlessly ratcheted up; it never slackens at all.  That and the fact that it is so believable, both psychologically (in the relationship between Juan and Malamadre, the leader of the rioters, played by the brilliant Luis Tosar) and socially (though I confess that I don’t know all there is to know about the conditions in Spanish prisons).

This is a riveting film, soldered with a slue of fine performances.