Histoire De Pen [Prison Story] (2002)

(In French, In theaters, October 2002) Prison dramas are, by now, a well-established kind of crime stories, and Histoire De Pen plays on familiar ground when telling this story. All the requisite elements are there, from the schizoid comic relief to “the hole” to the intimidation on prison grounds to homosexual violence and the callousness of “the outside world.” Not much is new here, especially when you consider that the overall story arc feels a lot like writer/director Michael Jetté’s previous Hochelaga. But Histoire De Pen is raw and (mostly) un-romanticized. This is far from The Shawshank Redemption in that pretty much all of the characters are unlovable, unrecoverable and rather stupid to boot. There is a certain impressive visual polish, especially given that it’s a low-budget French-Canadian production, and few dull moments mar the narrative. But the dialogues of the film are striking by their inappropriateness, scarcely sounding as if they really come from the hardened protagonists; a more consistently street-level dialogue style would have worked better. The ending is also a bit loose, taking the resolution out of the prison context, which strikes as kind of a cheat. This isn’t a pleasant film, but it’s an interesting one for most of its duration.

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