Alexandra Westmeier’s beautifully shot German docu “Alone in Four Walls” provides a nonjudgmental snapshot of Russian youth at one not-uncommon current extreme — in a boys’ reform school. Quietly involving pic lands somewhere between social plea and minimalist, aestheticized slice of institutional life. It’s an attractive fest item that should pick up some sales to artscasters and pubcasters.
Unnamed rural facility looks to house offenders aged about 10-14 — those who commit crimes at 15 or older are sent to adult prisons with stiffer sentences. Here, boys might serve two years for petty theft (often of food), or three years for three murders — though admittedly, we don’t hear details behind those particular cases. Most come from impoverished homes marked by beatings, alcohol abuse and absent, imprisoned or killed family members. So this apparently clean, orderly, educational environment is beneficial to many, even if their future still looks bleak. Helmer is drawn toward several individual boys but fascinated by Tolya, a tall older lad who killed another with a friend. He seems stable and intelligent, yet behind his camera-friendly demeanor, it’s hard to tell whether he feels real remorse or not.