Series review: Prisoner
- Kim Fupz Aakeson, Frederik Louis Hviid and Michael Noer sneak us inside a Danish prison populated by characters who envision the concepts of good and evil in their own individual ways
Selected in Canneseries and in the International Series Competition of the Geneva International Film Festival (GIFF), Prisoner is billed as the new event series from the North. Created by Kim Fupz Aakeson, Frederik Louis Hviid (Shorta [+see also:
interview: Anders Ølholm and Frederik …
film profile]) and Michael Noer (R [+see also:
film profile], Papillon [+see also:
film profile]) and steered by incredibly talented actors and actresses such as Scandinavian diva Sofie Gråbøl, David Dencik, Charlotte Fich and Youssef Wayne Hvidtfeldt, Prisoner invites us to willingly lock ourselves up, for the duration of six episodes (each lasting 60 minutes), in a Danish prison, a microcosm dominated by very precise rules where fighting for survival is a daily necessity. By way of camera movements which are both smooth and jerky, and a totally credible location (it’s set in a real prison), the jail enclosing the series’ characters (prisoners as well as guards) becomes an infernal place where the law of the jungle reigns.
To polish and improve the reputation of their now antiquated prison, four prison wardens are ordered to put an end to the drugs trafficking between inmates. This risky operation brings dark secrets to light (both inside and outside of the prison walls), opening a Pandora’s box which might have been better left closed forever. Heading up this diverse little group of guards - some conscientious and many who will stop at nothing to maintain a precarious balance which could falter at any moment - is the breathtaking Sofie Gråbøl (Miriam). Determined to turn the prison into a safer and more tolerable place for the inmates and guards alike, Miriam clashes with her obstinate colleagues who carry out their work like automatons, as if all traces of humanity had abandoned them once they’d crossed the prison threshold.
Light years away from the stereotypes usually associated with the prison world, Prisoner imposes itself thanks to its hyper-realist intentions, which allow the audience to totally immerse themselves in a distressing universe from which there’s no escape. Decidedly violent, sometime unbearable, Prisoner doesn’t shy away from anything, exposing the darker side of humanity and the grey zones which turn resignation into a cruel struggle for dominion.
This brilliant Danish series allows us to place ourselves in the shoes of prison wardens wrestling with real work problems, such as overcrowding and understaffing, as well as personal dramas which torment the film’s protagonists both inside and outside of prison. Their complicated lives remind us that freedom isn’t so easy to obtain and that the walls we willingly build around ourselves can often be thicker than jails.
Prisoner doesn’t only deliver detailed descriptions of the day-to-day lives of these wardens who work in the shadows, it also offers up a merciless social critique of prison conditions in Denmark (though this discourse could equally apply far beyond Scandinavian borders). Whether tackling corruption, religion or the difficulty of finding one’s place, both inside and outside of prison, Prisoner shows the reverse side of an institution which is falling apart and which feeds on human suffering, transforming compassion into violence and rehabilitation into a fight for survival.
(Translated from Italian)
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