45 Days in Jarbar - Documentary Review

★★★★

Directed by: #CésarAréchiga

Written by: #CésarAréchiga & #ClementinaMantellini

Documentary Review by Taryll Baker

Selected for the ‘We Are One’ Global Film Festival

Photography by Claudia Becerril Bulos

In a maximum-security prison just outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, the contemporary painter César Aréchiga initiates an ambitious plastic arts project with the help of fifteen inmates: a hands-on installation that recreates his living room and studio. As the group immerses themselves in the tactile processes of clay modelling, sculpting, and painting, the collaboration opens up space for deeper dialogues—and over the course of their work, the inmates open up about their backgrounds, share their personal experiences with the world of drug trafficking, and debate whether or not prison aims to truly rehabilitate the incarcerated.

45 Days in Jarbar (or 45 días en Jarbar) is one of those documentaries that click very easily. From the opening minutes, showing the production of paper, to the final moments where we’re given time to reflect on the stories we’ve heard and paintings we’ve seen. It’s a peaceful and somewhat tranquil journey. Art created with heart. Though it’s short in length, 45 Days in Jarbar manages to capture a lot. Suppressed emotion finally being released onto a canvas, a model, a sculpt. But it doesn’t forget to investigate the inmates.

We get to see the inmates as humans. Humans that have made regretful decisions that landed them inside. The fifteen people chosen for this workshop all bond with artist and director Aréchiga, and reveal their stories. One in particular is quite shocking; a simple moment fuelled by anger cost him a lot of time. Whatever he was planning to do with his life, is gone. But the film doesn’t dwell on these dark pasts, instead it focuses on making bonds through art, and showing that deep down, some people aren’t forever corrupted by their poor choices. This is something some viewers might not agree with — they don’t like to feel a connection with a convicted criminal. It’s understandable, but sometimes it’s not so clear-cut. Aréchiga spends time on each individuals’ stories, and whilst peeling back the layers of their history, gives something for their minds to focus on and care for.

Photography by Claudia Becerril Bulos

With its linear structure, we get to see evolution. As the days tick by, the inmates begin to connect with each other, and by the end, there’s some sense of bittersweetness. Cinematographer Claudia Becerril Bulos chooses to capture the faces of the individuals whilst working on their art. We see them learning, growing, and subtly shedding emotion, all through their expressions. It’s not until the end that we see the full pieces everyone was working on. Sections of the documentary are intercut with music being played on the piano in the workshop, panning through, glancing at each piece of work as they’re being finalised. Some closing moments with Aréchiga, alone in his studio at home, give the film the kind of poignant end it needed. The inmates left in their cells; Most will have forgotten them, but he’ll remember.


#TaryllBaker