El túnel de los huesos / Tunnel of Bones (2011, Argentina)

“Dreams defeat you more than the cops or the informers.” So says Vulcano (Raúl Taibo), an old school criminal who has committed 50 armed robberies on armoured vehicles, banks and other targets, and is serving a very hefty sentence as a result. But you can’t help thinking that it’s the informers who pose the biggest risk of defeating him in his latest venture.

It’s 1991, in the Villa Devoto Jail, Buenos Aires. Vulcano has just had an attempt made on his life and struggles with the new breed of prisoner. He is given work in the prison hospital, a little out of the way of the rough and tumble, and is well behaved. He is also planning an escape. Indeed, he co-opts every one of the hospital’s prisoner workforce into his plan, knowing that if they are all in it together, and remain tight, it has a better chance of success. They gain access to a disused part of the jail with a reputation for bad things having occurred there in the past… and start to build a tunnel.

Not surprisingly, the film has a lot in common with Jailbreak Pact (2020) – another, later, South American audacious-mass-escape-by-long-tunnel movie. Like that Chilean production, this is said to be based on true events, and, as with all tunnelling movies, the feats of engineering, the challenges in disposing of the rubble, and the risks of cave-ins and lack of oxygen at the tunnel’s end, all get a run here. And, as with all escape movies, there must be close shaves, of the plot nearly being found out or revealed by informers, and of one slip-up (or something entirely out of everyone’s control) placing the whole plan at risk.

But there are some significant differences between this and Jailbreak Pact as well. Instead of a busload of fairly nondescript but committed political prisoners, here there are just seven prisoners involved, not quite an ensemble but each injecting something different into the mix: the old-guard dinosaur Vulcano; his friend, the thuggish Toro (or Bull, Daniel Valenzuela); the chumpish evangelist who somehow finds himself in jail on account of his brother, El Correntino (Luciano Cazaux); the very strange but strangely erudite old-timer Marciano (Martian, Paco Redondo); the psychopathic Triple (Germán de Silva); the conman No Sé (‘I don’t know’, Daniel Polo); and an awkward young man El Novio (or Boyfriend, Martín Scarfi), who is fixated on his girlfriend ringing or visiting, but is universally believed to have killed her. No shortage of spin-off escape series there.

Oh, the other major difference: towards the back end of the tunnel, they disturb a collection of human bones. They can’t turn back, but want to be respectful of the bones’ owners, and feel compelled to seek safe passage through them. It’s an old prison, and nor can they quite work out whether the bones belong to political dissidents from Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’, or from some other time, or are prisoners who have died from gastroenteritis, sore knees or the plague and have been buried there for want of a more convenient burial ground.

That the escape plot gets as far as it does is somewhat remarkable. The prisoners share the hospital with all the prison’s ill and injured, some of whom must be intrigued at the departure of some of the prisoners once the lights go out. One suspicious prisoner, Pantera (Panther, Rubén Noceda) tips off the guards. The doctor (Darío Levy), also notices that something is going on, and warns Vulcano to pull his head in. Still the fab seven continue digging, undiscovered, in a test of one’s credulity.

Wrapped around all the action is a subplot involving a journalist, Ricardo Ragendorfer (Jorge Sesán), who is given the full story of the escape by Vulcano while he’s on the lam. It unfortunately distracts and detracts from the main drama, even if it does provide a helpful link back to the film’s bonier elements.

This has some nice prison moments, but is more theatrical than Jailbreak Pact, for example, and less credible as a result. Solid entertainment, nonetheless.

 

 

 

Posted on February 17th, 2021 at 10:28 pm. Updated on February 17th, 2021 at 10:28 pm.

#167 in the Top 500

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