Lions Den.

A story about raising young children in an Argentinian prison.


Pablo Trapero’s fourth film is not your standard movie about motherhood and the strong links between a mother and her child mainly because the mothers and children involved in Lions Den (2008) are behind bars[1]The film is about a middle class student called Julia who gives birth to her son Thomas in jail while awaiting trial for allegedly murdering her boyfriend and stabbing his male lover. Julia’s life in prison bringing up her child is shown in detail and demonstrates the difference between the rather nervous unsure pregnant student lost in the general unease of the prison system and the change in her demeanour after she becomes a mother, developing a powerful survival instinct.

Unfortunately this film had a limited release in the UK in 2010 from a director who has since became very well known for Carancho (2012) which was selected as the Argentine entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards but eventually lost out to the Danish drama/thriller In a Better World (2010). Lions Denagain stars Trapero’s wife the 31 year-old Martina Gusman who is also the Executive Producer. Actually filmed in maximum-security prisons including Buenos Aires Batan Penitentiary and using prison guards and inmates as extras this, and the research within the prison system that the husband and wife pair carried out, really pay’s of giving the film a socially realistic documentary style.

Martina Gusman with her on screen child Thomas.

Martina Gusman appears in every scene and certainly gives a convincing performance highlighting what she has called the ‘forgotten issue’, that is to say the stress and pressure put on women bring up their children inside prison. Her portrayal also ensures that you will find this film very moving and will not have any qualms about empathising with the mothers no matter what their crimes, children are the most precious commodity there is and should be treated as such. Both director and leading actress, who obviously care about their subject, have argued publically for a different system to be introduced for mothers with very young children. Yes, to an extent the movie is a political stage but one that’s well disserved. Although this is an affecting film it is also very enjoyable and at times quite humorous.

No place to raise children.

Regarding his approach to filmmaking Trapero says that he try’s to tell stories that can give you a different view of life, that can touch or move you indifferent ways. He likes to be close to the characters, not just following a story and observing. He also says that he likes bringing to the screen the sense that you are sharing a part of your life with a fictional character, and in the three films I have seen from this very talented Argentinian director he more than succeeds.


[1] In ARGENTINA, female convicts can keep their children with them in prison until the child reaches the age of four. This can create an atmosphere conducive to child abuse and neglect. In many developing nations, inmates depend on family members to provide them with food, clothing and special medical care. Inmates whose families are not able to supply the basic necessities, or who have been abandoned by their families, often wear rags and eat only what they are able to beg from other inmates.