Year:  2022

Director:  Alberto Rodríguez

Release:  June 16 – July 12, 2023

Running time: 125 minutes

Worth: $17.00
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Miguel Herrán, Javier Gutiérrez, Jesús Carroza, Víctor Castilla, Catalina Sopelana

… a fine document of a place and time in flux.

Based on events in Barcelona following the death of General Franco, this film looks at injustices within a prison system that systematically brutalised its inhabitants. Director Alberto Rodríguez sets most of his film inside the (in)famous Cárcel Modelo prison, where Manuel (Miguel Herrán) is sent for embezzling a sum of money from his company (in an early indication of the film’s intent, we discover that he’s been left to carry the can for the boss’s son). The prison building is a fantastic drawcard for the film – it was designed in the ‘panopticon’ style, a kind of concentric layout where, in theory, one guard could view all sections of the jail from a central hub, with the ‘spokes’ as the inmates’ quarters.

On arrival, Manuel is sent to solitary quarantine where he’s attacked by bugs and guards alike, but where he also meets Blacky (Jesús Carroza), a fixer type of prisoner. When he’s finally released into ‘regular’ accommodation, Blacky sets him up in his room, also shared by Pino (Javier Gutiérrez), a veteran of the penal system.

The story that flows from this opening, centres on Manuel’s attempt to be released, which coincides with the aims of the PRA, a nascent prisoners’ union that wants amnesty for all inmates of the Franco regime, political or otherwise. Some elements of this film are blood-boiling, be it outside reluctance on the part of the authorities, or inside, more bloody justice meted out by guards and fellow cons alike. An almost unbelievable vision awaiting Manuel upon his release in the form of potential girlfriend Lucía (Catalina Sopelana) just adds to the anxiety.

The historical nature of events is both beneficial and detrimental to the aspirations of the film. In trying to stay loyal to the facts, Rodríguez and his co-writer Rafael Cobos, have bitten off just a morsel more than audiences can chew. There are probably 15 minutes that could have been lost, notably Manuel and Pino’s transfer to another prison and their subsequent travails.

The relationship between the two leads is well set up – the old porridge pro versus the proud poser – and it culminates in a satisfying détente. Both Gutiérrez and Herrán are believable in their respective roles and, aside from the pace drifting at the start of the final act, the film holds the attention through to an unexpectedly upbeat gear change at the finale. Prison 77 is a fine document of a place and time in flux.