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Julia, a 25 year-old university student, two weeks pregnant, with no criminal record, is sent to prison. Julia murdered the father of her child. This story addresses maternity, jail and Justice; confinement, guilt and solitude; but above all it deals with Julia and her son, Tomas, born inside an Argentinean prison.Written by
Where to start with "Leonera", a tale of unexplainable love, strength and growth? Well, I could say that to make a movie as powerful as this one, would require not only love for cinema, but strength and growth acquired with the years? Pablo Trapero is in love with his work; he lives with it as his characters live with their stories: fighting.
Just as Zapa fought for a place in the police force and had it tough in "El Bonaerense", Julia Zárate has to fight for respect when she arrives to a cell in a prison, and later on for her son, Tomás. The 'love' factor may not be the best way of expressing the power of "Leonera", but it's certainly a good one because it's a characteristic that's present throughout the entire ride and that you might not take so much into account.
Trapero is so very in love with his wife Martina Gusmán too. She plays the main role of Julia and she does it with tremendous expertise and maturity, appearing younger than she really is; being strong when she must and completely defenseless when the circumstances requires. Yes, Gusmán is the driving force of "Leonera", but it's fair to say that it wouldn't be the same if the camera didn't love her like it does.
Here, as in "Familia Rodante" inside the van (and also in "El bonaerense", though with not the same impact), the director's collaboration with cinematographer Guillermo Nieto is crucial. The camera's focus on Julia is constant, with close-ups that sometimes are even repulsive, when we see her in her worst state, as she goes through the most dreadful experiences. I could tell you these experiences one by one, but it would be pointless.
When I wrote about "Familia Rodante" I said: "Trapero directs so close to reality that we could be watching a documentary". This is a compliment, because to move the viewer there's nothing more effective than reality. If Julia goes through all these things is because she must have done something, because reality involves people, and in the end is always going to be about people.
More than ever, Trapero's eye for reality makes the difference of what's going on in Argentina with the film industry today. The script of "Leonera", which he wrote with his collaborators, is sharp and harsh; with a strong vocabulary that resounds through the wall of this ward of this prison, another main character as, in the best Frank Darabont tradition, the ward in "The Green Mile" and the whole prison in "The Shawshank Redemptions".
In the objective of representing reality that no other national filmmaker today, Trapero observes the prison during the film, presenting shots of the installations from different angles; during the day, during the night, while it's raining. This way, we can identify with Julia's situation, without having to defend her position, something Trapero never demands us to do. There's one sequence in which Julia's baby starts crying and the camera goes through the windows of every cell, where every baby in the prison starts crying. The crying becomes so loud that we want to cover our ears.
There are villains and best friends in "Leonera", because they have to be. There must be someone who wants to keep Julia away from her son, and there has to be someone who will help her with her problems inside the prison. In Julia's relationship with these characters, if you try to see it that way, what rules is, going back to the beginning, love.
Though it sounds like a cliché, and there are many other reasons (and I tried to develop some) to explain Trapero's latest film's magical quality, we can't deny that there's nothing like motherly love. Trapero knows it and he makes us feel it, surrounding us with real people (you have to watch this; you'll see really real people).
Renowned critics say that we can't talk about New Argentine Cinema anymore, that we have to say Argentine Cinema. You can call it whatever you want, I'll just tell you there are incredible films like "Leonera" being made and you shouldn't miss them, beyond every prejudice you could have.
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