96 minutes, Argentina
Life on the inside
In our current era of many calamities in prisons worldwide due to COVID-19, it is instructive to go back almost half a century to life on the inside of a Chilean detention centre, seen through the homosexual lens (natural or forced) of male incarceration.
The inciting incident—a sudden throat slashing in a crowded bar—leaves no doubt that the perpetrator, Jaime (engagingly and courageously portrayed by Juan Carlos Maldonado) will spend the rest of his days behind bars for murder, but the question remains: Why did he do it?
Once in the slammer, the handsome, young convict is escorted to a cell where the much older patriarch “The Stud” (sporting a wedding ring) sends his current bedmate to the floor and welcomes the newly minted “Il Principe” into the close confines of the bottom half of a bunk bed (top being occupied by obviously longtime lovers).
From there it’s a series of rivalries in the jail for various affections (often fuelled by the promise of gifts—from guitars, to Argentinian cigarettes to a red-leather jacket), brutal interactions by the guards (a pole in the you-know-where seems to delight the representatives of law and order—couldn’t happen in 2020, right?) and willful blindness when keeping the peace “inside” might cause the cowardly men in uniform even a scratch.
Muñoz along with co-writer Luis Barrales pull no punches depicting the sexual activities in the showers or “against the wall”, but always with realistic taste.
Ángela Acuña’s cello-rich original score reinforces the dark action to a T. The only serious flaw is the “why”. Revealed in the closing moments, Il Principe’s motivation to kill a sometime lover seems more a convenient contrivance than believable plot point. Still, taking the place of his former patriarch as the next new boy joins their number (with Salvador Allende’s “acceptance speech” as the aural backdrop) scores high in the realm of irony. JWR
And Then We Danced
114 minutes, Georgia
No words required
Georgian traditional dance is nothing but conservative: “It is the spirit of our nation.” “No sex in Georgian dance”; [men] “Be like a nail.”
And then along comes Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani must carry the production and he does a commendable job as dancer and actor; his sultry good looks also contribute much to the visual interest). Confined to the corps, his future brightens immeasurably with the announcement that there will be auditions for a principal (and much better-paying role) “soon”. The vacancy has arisen due to star dancer Zaza being found having sex! Gasp! With a man; double gasp! An Armenian!
But the competition will be stiff with the arrival of newcomer Irakli (the furry-chested Bachi Valishvili holds his own on the dance floor but comes across as too one-dimensional in character development).
Also in the corps and longtime dance partner is Mary (Ana Javakishvili also holds her own on the floor but comes across a tad shallow—partially due to Akin’s too predictable script where the only surprise is “bejewelled”).
Kakha Gogidze does a fine job portraying the no-nonsense dance master, Aleko, offering tough love and admirably keeping the entire troupe, er, on their toes.
The love story comes to its furtive consummation with nary a word of dialogue but much movement and music—and an all-understanding look from Mary as the two sudden partners reclaim their beds.
The film’s best moments are most certainly the dance sequences and the marvellously rendered full-bore chorus interventions: Georgian culture is without doubt the star of this production.
Do take a look, smile along with the narrative and savour the thrust and parry of the arts. JWR