Dec 31, 2018
Well, I made it. 365 podcast reviews in 365 days. We’re closing out with the 155th Netflix Original film I’ve reviewed this year, nearly all of which were released this past year. And let me just say that Netflix sure knows how to close out a year. I’ll be posting some top lists from the year next week, but if you want to read or listen to all of them, head over to onemoviepunch.com and search on the Netflix Original blog tag. And for the podcasters out there, if you’re interested in talking with someone who has viewed them all, reach out over social media and we can line something up in the new year.
Today’s movie is “A Twelve-Year Night” (2018), the Netflix Original historical drama written and directed by Álvaro Brechner. The film follows the twelve-year, nearly continuous solitary confinement of three Uruguayan political prisoners: Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro (Alfonso Tort), Mauricio Rosencof (Chino Darín), and José Mujica (Antonio de la Torre), who would later go on to be president at 75 after his release.
I can’t think of a worse torture than solitary confinement, even for someone like me who has a lot of trouble peopling most days. I was horrified when I learned two decades ago that solitary confinement was still being used as a punishment in United States prisons, because the effects on people are so harmful, both psychologically and physically, the former multiplying the effects of the latter. The reason is because the torture comes from ourselves as much as it comes from the detaining authority. Political prisoners often have it even worse, necessarily isolated from general population either to inflict more harm, or to stop them from organizing a prison resistance. Now, take this documented form of torture back almost fifty years, and into the hands of the Uruguayan dictatorship, and you have the story of today’s political prisoners, kept from assassination only because they feared what their martyrdom might bring within the largely supportive public. I would be one of the first to say that this couldn’t possibly be translated effectively to film, and let me also be one of the first (based on the critics) to say that I would be incredibly wrong.
The magic of “A Twelve-Year Night” (2018) is that Brechner captures the right mix of emotions and events over the twelve-year imprisonment to communicate the sheer horror of solitary confinement. Right from the beginning we are shown an example of just how horribly they were treated as prisoners, tortured physically and psychologically first for information about their fellow revolutionaries, then seemingly for the sheer principle of the matter. However, the film is not torture porn in the slightest, also including some of the incredibly humorous and Kafkaesque events that took place along the way, along with some deeply emotional moments as well. All three leads do an incredible job showing three very different versions of what solitary confinement can do to a person. Brechner also flashes back to events before their confinement, showing the circumstances under which they were captured pretty clearly, and some madness-tinged memories that we’re never quite sure are real, even if they might be real to the prisoners.
In fact, those madness-tinged memories, along with some great camera work in tight spaces really helped to demonstrate the toll of long-term solitary confinement on a person. I found the montages to be as important as the rest of the film, never feeling like filler, and always moving the story along. The set choices and costumes were well-chosen, fitting the dingy color palette effectively throughout. But most importantly, I found the film to be an important cautionary counterpoint to most tales of grassroots revolution, not showing the glories of battle so much as the unspoken costs of failure, particularly against a military regime backed by the United States. The costs of revolution are often higher than the film industry depicts, but not with today’s film. And that ending... a perfect way to close out the year of Netflix Originals, and perhaps one of the most emotional endings I’ve seen all year.
“A Twelve-Year Night” (2018) is an emotional and historical dive into the imprisonment of three political prisoners, lead by three incredible actors portraying the protagonists, and spanning one of the darkest times in Uruguayan history. Álvaro Brechner captures the madness induced by long-term solitary confinement, and tells a larger story about the consequences of revolution. Historical drama fans, or folks who might want to learn a lot more about the era, should definitely check out this film. It is probably one of the more important films made this year.
El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
One Movie Punch: 9.6/10
“A Twelve-Year Night” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.