14 Tage Lebenslänglich / 14 Days to Life (1997, Germany)
Cynical, arrogant, foppish star lawyer Konrad von Seidlitz (Kai Wiesinger) engineers a 14 day spell in prison for himself by refusing to pay traffic fines – a stunt to protest being fined in the first place, and to give his legal firm some free publicity (celebrating his act of civil courage). And to demonstrate that he can do time in prison easily.
Once inside, after an expensive ‘going in’ party, he is indeed very sure of himself. For a start, he is engaged to Cornelia (Silvia Leifheit), the daughter of the Minister for Justice, he knows his rights, and sees himself as untouchable. He is sleazily self-confident, patronising, dismissive of his fellow prisoners, and rude to the prison officers, whom he orders around. He continues to wear his suit and tie, keeps his mobile phone, conducts business from his cell, has little contact with the prisoners and refuses to follow the prison rules.
In doing so, however, he makes himself extremely unpopular, and on the day of his release, 200 grams of cocaine are magically found under the rim of the toilet in his cell during a ‘random’ search. The offence, when proven (fellow prisoners having lined up to give evidence against him), brings him two more years in prison, without parole. While his law firm partner Häring (Axel Pape) fights for an appeal outside, his fellow prisoners make life a little more difficult for him.
Von Seidlitz doesn’t count on several things; one on being in jail for two years, and another that Häring would take up with Cornelia in his absence. As a regular, non-celebrity inmate he is quickly and painfully brought down to earth by his fellow prisoners. And guards. He turns to the prison psychologist, Annika (Katharina Meinecke), for solace and to seek her support in proving his innocence of the drug possession.
After an attempted rape, from which he escapes relatively unharmed with a little luck, he is not so lucky when he gets stabbed in the yard and is seriously injured. After two weeks he returns to the prison, a little wiser and more subdued than before. He learns from the experience and doesn’t go under; his inner resistance grows and he gains some respect from the other prisoners, notably big time criminal Victor Czernetsky (Michael Mendl), with whom he had been locked into a battle from early in the piece after Czernetsky refused to clean the lawyer’s expensive shoes.
Ultimately von Seidlitz is blackmailed into being part of a daring escape plan involving Ramon (Marek Wlodarczyk), a new prisoner with whom von Seidlitz had a fleeting acquaintance, who is trying to get his hands on some of Czernetsky’s ill-gotten gains. Von Seidlitz plays along and he is then able to get access to evidence about Häring’s involvement in the trial which put him behind bars.
What starts as an arrogant-lawyer-gets-his-comeuppance story develops into a bit of a thriller, with bigger players and more at stake. And something of an unlikely romance as well, with Annika falling for her not altogether pleasant client. Filmed at a number of closed East German prisons (including Rummelsburg and Keibelstraße), it registers on the positive side of the realness scale (except, perhaps, for his conviction of the cocaine possession).
It might also indicate that for many there’s no such thing as easy jail.
Thanks again to Peter Severin for his part in this post.
Posted on June 2nd, 2019 at 3:41 pm. Updated on June 13th, 2019 at 3:42 pm.
#118 in the Top 500