There are lots of theories about how to reduce crime, but showing “9 Square Meters for Two” to youngsters might be a good place to start: they’d get an excellent idea of how it is to be confined to a tiny prison cell with a cellmate. Written and performed by actual inmates of Baumettes Prison, Marseilles, docu-like fictional pic grew out of a filmmaking-in-prison lab. This portrait of boredom that never bores has been drawing viewers in Gaul for three months, since its Feb. 1 release.
As part of an ongoing program, 10 men were trained to use the camera, to think about camera angles (held at arm’s length, in-your-face, stationary), and so on. With real-life cellmates handing off the camera during longish takes, the result — assembled by vet editor Roger Ikhlef — has a formal unity, conveying the frustrations of lock-up in a manner both claustrophobic and expressive.
Mini-DV lensing, blocked and executed by jailbird thesps is, of necessity, up-close and personal. Entire venture was shot in a full-sized replica of a regulation cell (9 square meters is roughly 100 square feet) built within the prison grounds. Use of a set helped inmates keep track of the crucial difference between real and imaginary situations while allowing for professional lighting.
Not one of these guys seems to be a criminal — and the viewer is never told how they landed in the joint. Each man gets on his own, as well as his cellmate’s, nerves at some point. But unlike most behind-bars sagas, here, the closest thing to a fight stems not from an insult or a wrong move in the showers but from a game of Scrabble that’s going badly.
A discussion of the randomness of the penal code is particularly thought-provoking.