Cell 211 (Celda 211) Reviews
This 2009 film from Spain is one of the most iconic films about prison politics. The first thing that comes into everyone's mind when they think of prison is "don't drop the soap". Cell 211 examines the cause and effect of prison subjects very far from much hyped soap business. What if Prison, the very purpose of which is to confine and incarcerate people charged with crimes, uses criminal methods to provide correctional officers with unwarranted advantage over inmates to such extent that one may say enough is enough? If history has taught us anything, it's that nothing is permanent. What if inmates were to stand up against tyranny of correctional officers? Do their past crimes validate the methods used against them? Sometimes the line that separates right from wrong becomes so thin that one may question his judgment and morality. We, as an audience, constantly face this dilemma while trying to pick up sides during the whole length of movie.
The film has one of the most memorable opening scenes that don't really serve any purpose to the story line but its there for a reason and the reason alone is to warn the audience that this film does not care about their expectations for some kind of release or catharsis. It would be a sin to describe the scene to the uninitiated. It must unfold itself as it slowly grows inside you and sets the tone of the film. The movie starts as an investigation of events leading up to the conclusion of prison riot. Juan Oliver, newly appointed prison officer, decides to take a tour of prison but an accident knocks him unconscious and he is rushed by prison officers to empty but apparently haunted walls of cell 211. In the mean time, murder of another prison guard by an inmate (an extraordinary one) quickly develops into a riot leading to convicts breaking free and hijacking control of the penitentiary. Aware of the violence that is to come, the prison officers flee, leaving Juan stranded and unconscious in the heart of the riot. When Juan awakens, he immediately takes stock of the situation; in order to survive, he must pretend to be a prisoner.
Cell 211 may be about the chaos of prison riot but its essence lies not in violence but rather in beauty of friendship in the most unusual of circumstances between two polarizing characters, Juan- the prison officer and Malamadre- the inmate. Script transforms into a character study, in which the prison inmate, Malamadre, becomes a scholar of depravity and the younger Juan experiences it in a pitiable and personal way. The enigma of Malamadre's character is at the heart of the film, and this is one of Luis Tosar's best performances. He embodies authority naturally; much like his other works such as Te doy mis ojos 2003. Here he knows all the lessons an inmate might internalize during years spent in what we learn is one of the worst prisons of the country. Malamadre is introduced early into the film and dominates the film from that point forward. This actor is entrusted with big assignment. He embodies Authority. Like Hans Landa, his character must be played by a strong actor who projects not merely villainy but authoritarian. Observe his face- Smug,Self-satisfied. Listen to his voice-Articulate, analytical. Mark his composure and apparent fearlessness. The film essentially depends on him, and would go astray if the actor faltered. He never does.
Elena, Juan's pregnant wife, brings a note of compassion into the picture. Watching the film, we assume Elena's character is simply a place-holder, labeled protagonist's wife and denied much depth. But she is saving her impact until later. The film is fast paced with chaos erupting one after another wherein the flashbacks of intimate moments between Elena and Juan comes into play to provide the story with more passion. The most interesting part is watching Juan win the confidence of Malamadre and other inmates with his wit and playing a double-agent at the same time.
I learn from internet that the name "Malamadre", seemingly so meaningless for us non-Europeans, actually serves a purpose. Malamadre literally translates into Bad Mother in Spanish which is a plant oftenly called as Spider plant (botanical name Chlorophytum Comosum). The spider plant is so named because of its spider-like plants, or spiderettes, which dangle down from the mother plant like spiders on a web signifying the persona of Malamadre's inherent character as the inmates' confidante.
Like Malamadre, Cell 211 keeps its words.
It's not just action or suspense oriented but discusses themes about code of honor and justice