Truth in the details

Review of Alone in Four Walls by Sophia B., age 16

Alone in Four Walls begins with a close-up of a head being shaved. The head belongs to a small boy with a remarkably childlike face and a plethora of tattoos.

This unusual and disturbing montage is only one of equally unique moments in the chilling documentary. Alone in Four Walls, named after one of the boy's tattoos, studies the crimes and prison conditions of juvenile delinquents. It focuses on surprising details, and while some scenes feel too drawn out, images such as that of a former thief carefully making his bed are heartrending in a way that no conventional film would reproduce.

Most people associate documentaries with school. The general stereotype is a series of people talking, with pictures interspersed and a monotone voice narrating. Fortunately, there are no stereotypes to be seen in Alone in Four Walls. There are certainly interviews, but not of the expected stammering elderly. Some interviewees are fraught with trembling and sobs, while others lightheartedly recount theft. Over their words are juxtaposed poignant scenes: empty hallways, rows of skinny boys forced to exercise, a window covered in bars.

There is no preaching; the children and their victims speak for themselves. At the same time, many scenes are disorienting or downright bewildering. Due to issues with the DVD, I could not finish Alone in Four Walls. However, what I did see was expertly made and touching without trying too hard. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone interested not just in underage crimes but in basic human nature.

This documentary is in Russian with English subtitles. Since I don't know Russian, I can't speak for the accuracy of the subtitles, but they are coherent and without spelling errors. Anyone who has watched foreign films will know how rare that is.

Sophia B.
May 14th, 2008

Alone in Four Walls
Seattle International Film Festival
Sunday, June 8th @ 4:00 @ Pacific Place Cinema
Monday, June 9th @ 7:00 @ Pacific Place Cinema

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