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Lola Arias Reas Review

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Reas | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Reas | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Caged Birds Singing: Arias Re-enacts Prison Experiences

Lola Arias Reas ReviewIf Orange is the New Black was being workshopped as a community theater musical, it might resemble something like Reas, the second experimental documentary feature from Argentinean filmmaker Lola Arias. Much like her approach with 2018’s Theater of War, in which former British and Argentinean soldiers shared their experiences during the Falklands war through a variety of approaches including reenactment, Arias delivers a new kind of women-in-prison experience, this time featuring cis and trans women who are ex-cons. Reflecting on the necessity of escapism, it’s a film which utilizes music as a form of liberation, courting levity rather than desperation. Although focusing on two main characters, who meet and marry while incarcerated, the free flowing narrative is composed of various intersecting shards of experience.

Yoseli (Yoseli Arias) is the main point of entry, a new inmate in a Buenos Aires women’s prison serving time for drug trafficking. Initially, she’s reluctant to accept invitations to one of the prison’s chosen families, preferring to isolate, which she inevitably realizes is impossible. Her gruff cellmate bluntly confirms this is not a place where gossip or backstabbing is acceptable, as the women have learned it’s better to support one another (even though this isn’t always the reality). She’s eventually drawn to the charming Nacho (Ignacio Amador Rodriguez), a trans man arrested for swindling. Having assembled a band, and allowed time to practice for an upcoming event at the prison, Nacho coaxes Yoseli out of her shell, and the two eventually marry.

Music eventually takes over as Reas goes on, the women breaking into synchronized choreographies to relay experiences. Sometimes, these moments aren’t quite as captivating as they should be, though this works best as a way to convey a prison yard dance fight, which is reminiscent of something like West Side Story. More interesting is the presentation of intersecting cis women and their trans counterparts, feeling more like an assorted collage of experiences more similar than they are different. This is a long way off from the exploitative examples of contemporary women-in-prison films broaching trans experiences, such as Jules Stewart’s (mother of Kristen) grungy 2012 indie K-11.

A novel, even cathartic approach as a way to re-enact past traumatic experiences, Reas works effectively as a collective rather than with any of its isolated individual elements. By the time we get to the finale, where the crumbling facade of the prison has dissipated, like some toxic mirage as the inmates muse on their future plans, Arias ends on a moment suggesting something more potent might exist beyond the end credits.

Reviewed on February 18th at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Forum section. 82 mins.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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