Gefangen / Locked Up (2004, Germany)

For years I avoided this movie, aware that there was a hardcore version, Eingelocht, and fearful that this less graphic version would still be an inane, plotless vehicle for gratuitous ‘erotic’ scenes – like so many WIP movies. The good news is that while it boasts shower scenes and a strip search and a rape and a stabbing in the anus and some consensual sex, it’s mostly in context. Sort of. The not-so-good news is that it is pretty much plotless, much of the acting is abysmal, and it is immediately forgettable.

I shouldn’t say ‘plotless’. There is a plot. From his cell window, first-time and newly-arrived prisoner Dennis Tormann (Marcel Schlutt), serving a two-year sentence for credit card fraud, spies an African-American prisoner, Mike (Mike Sale), doing manual labour with his shirt off, and is immediately smitten. Mike is seven years into a 15-year sentence for murder. Although Dennis lives on C Block and Mike lives on E Block, they get together, are allowed to move into a shared cell, and then Dennis is released.

There are some minor character and sub-plot diversions: the E Block king of the prisoners, Lutz (Ralph Steel) and his cronies impose their authority on the new fish; their hapless punk, or whipping-boy, Kevin Letarski (David Parstein), tries to educate Dennis about how the prison operates; the bullish warder Müller (Michael Busch) helps Lutz run the drug trade and seemingly has a mission to disrupt the same-sex partnering of prisoners; and an ineffectual prison director, Bernbach (Pedro Sobisch) does little except try to induce Dennis to rat on his C Block associates.

The movie would seem to have been filmed at an abandoned prison (uncredited), and it sadly looks like an abandoned prison: paint peeling, weeds proliferating. It’s distracting, and undermines the tricky task that director Jörg Andreas has in making us believe in his wooden characters.

But the film’s biggest problem is with Mike, who is terribly miscast. He is supposed to be American, a New Yorker, but speaks with a light English accent. In what can only be a piece of racial stereotyping, he is supposed to excel at basketball, but is not at all convincing with the ball in his hands. He has been in jail for seven years, but speaks only English. More critically, he is supposed to be tough (we see him assaulting a prisoner who owes him money), but far from projecting potency or carrying the air of an enforcer, his voice and demeanour lack authority and presence. How he looks with his shirt off would seem to have been the sole focus of his audition for the part.

Locked Up purports, I think, to be a romance; two prisoners falling in love in a prison in which loveless, transactional or non-consensual sex is the norm. And rife. One of the warders has a submissive sexual relationship with Mike, the prison director lingers a bit too long at the observation window of Dennis’s cell as he undresses for bed, and Dennis and Mike’s courtship consists almost entirely of some shared glances. Casablanca it’s not.

Or maybe it’s not intended as a romance – it’s just what’s left over when the hardcore sex has been removed.

Either way, it’s unedifying.

 

 

 

Posted on December 9th, 2019 at 1:06 pm. Updated on December 9th, 2019 at 1:16 pm.

#484 in the Top 500

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