Future Frames 2017 Review: Imprisoned

***Please note this review contains mild spoilers for Imprisoned***

Prison has always been a popular location and subject for film. The confined space, disparate characters and power dynamics at play have always been ripe for dramatic exploitation. In Imprisoned, Czech filmmaker Damián Vondrášek plays with some of the clichés of the prison film genre to create a piece that slightly wrong-foots the audience as it deals with familial conflict and notions of masculinity.

The film begins with Jakub (Jakub Koudela) getting dressed and waiting to be taken to prison ny hid father-in-law. The opening minutes of the film play with the notion that Jakub is himself being taken to the prison to begin a sentence. But as he is led around the imposing facility it becomes apparent that he is visiting with a view to beginning a job within the prison’s educational facility. His father-in-law also works there as a guard – a fact that also becomes clear when Jakub witnesses an incident with one of the inmates. Away from the confines of the jail the relationship between Jakub and his father-in-law is laid bare and we see the fractures between them.

In many ways Imprisoned is about masculinity. Jakub is an unemployed academic looking for an educational job within the prison. His father-in-law, who clearly thinks that his daughter could do better, is a guard with all the power (and misuse of said power) and status that entails. When Jakub is shown in scenes of domesticity – doing the washing up or cooking the meals for his family – his father-in-law’s contempt for him grows. Jakub is not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes and – in the eyes of his in-law – is not a ‘real man’.

Imprisoned is also – unsurprisingly – about confinement, both physically and emotionally. The forays into the prison are an impressive technical achievement (the film was shot in an actual working prison), the camera following Jakub around never letting him go. Similarly, the camera remains tight on Jakub throughout much of the film which emphasises just how trapped is his by his situation. Does he stand up to his disapproving in-law, with the possibility of losing the chance at a job that will provide for his family? Or does he swallow his pride and keep his feelings under lock and key?. The final moments of the film provide the answers and the final shot of prison bars suggests that people are going to remain imprisoned for some time to come.

Koudela is good in the central role, a mixture of quiet despair and emotional impotence. The constant claustrophobic feeling is handled well by cinematographer Filip Marek with both the prison itself and Jakub’s flat coming across as places that are as equally confining.

A product of the Czech Republic’s FAMU (Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague), Imprisoned is an impressive film from Vondrášek that manages to play with genre expectation whilst sensitively and subtlety exploring complex themes. Playing as part of Future Frames at the 2017 edition of Karlovy Vary, the film should go to a few more festivals on the circuit over the coming months and find some appreciative audiences.

You can read an interview with Damián Vondrášek HERE

Film Information
Original Title: Vězení
English Title: Imprisoned
Director: Damián Vondrášek
Country: Czech Republic
Year: 2016
Run Time: 27 mins
Contact: Czech Film Centre, info@filmcenter.cz

24 June 2017, by Laurence Boyce