Inside Out Men (A Gente): Rio de Janeiro Review
A fly on the wall prison documentary from Oscar-nominated Brazilian Aly Muritiba.
Anyone looking for a stern corrective to the idea that Latin American justice is unjust, cruel, and corrupt should take a look at Aly Muritiba's forceful fly on the wall prison documentary Inside Out Men. Essentially a study of a man caught between the rock of the institutions he represents and the hard place of the prisoners in his charge, the film takes us through a cycle in the life of Jefferson Wilkiu, all-round good guy and head guard in a Brazilian penitentiary.
Muritiba’s short The Factory, the second part of a prison trilogy (he is a former guard himself) was Oscar shortlisted in 2012, and that alone, combined with multiple awards that Muritiba's other work has garnered, should ensure festival play for this alternative view of Brazilian justice.
Following an upbeat and impassioned introduction to his team after taking up his new post, Wilkiu explains to his superiors that the prison doesn't have enough handcuffs and that the found the padlock on his new office door had been sawn-off -- hardly an encouraging sign, and one of several authentically surreal anecdotes that pepper the film. (A shot later on reassuringly shows lots of handcuffs on a wall behind him.)
This is a prison based on dialog, not on violence. The inmates receive lessons -- math, for example, is taught by having them calculate the length of their sentences -- and Walkiu is keen to offer a personalized service, engaging with angry prisoners through doors in sometimes heated discussions.
Men features no camera-friendly riots; this is a film about the day to day, but structuring it as Walkiu’s struggle to do the right thing keeps it from ever feeling mundane. The only moment of traditional penitentiary excitement comes when a mobile phone is discovered in the cell of an aging prisoner, the episode terminating with a brief, haunting exchange in which a warder asks the prisoner "You were having a hard time, so you ended someone's life?" which provokes the crushing, hard-boiled reply "it was my own life I ended."
For most of the film, our hero runs around with a worried expression on his face, trying to put out fires: these run from negotiating a reduction in the amount of coffee being allowed to inmates, to tackling the problem of inmates ordering the execution of one of his staff from the inside.
His motivation -- a part-time preacher, he is clearly a driven man, and in several scenes we see him lost in a religious trance -- is that he genuinely wants to do good and go beyond the official description of his job as someone responsible simply for "surveillance and custody". But the system into which he is trying to import a little decency is built on a system of humanity-sapping, impersonal acronyms, a fact highlighted by prefacing each of the film's sections with one, backed by an alienating electronic hum.
The Portuguese title is a pun: a gente means "people", and agente means "agent", and there is the suggestion that Walkiu is a rare fusion of the two. In the lengthy list of final credits, prisoners and guards are given equal status.
Production: Grafo Audiovisual
Cast: Jefferson Walkiu
Director, screenwriter: Aly Muritiba
Producers: Antonio Jr., Aly Muritiba, Marisa Merlo
Director of photography: Elisandro Dalcin
Production designer: Leticia Bernaus
Editor: Joao Menna Barreto, Muritiba
Sound: Rodrigo Sanchez Marino
Sales: Grafo Audiovisual
No rating, 89 minutos