Direction: Alvaro Brechner
The terror of solitary confinement with all its deprivations and consequent psychological effects is extensively depicted in Alvaro Brechner’s A Twelve-Year Night, a haunting account of 12 years of incarceration in the life of Jose Mujica (Antonio de la Torre), the one who, years later, would become the charismatic president of Uruguay, and his two Tupamaro compatriots, Mauricio Rosencof (Chino Darín) and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro (Alfonso Tort).
In 1973, Uruguay in taken by a military dictatorship. Members of a left-wing guerrilla group known as Tupamaros are considered subversive traitors of the country, being persecuted and destroyed without clemency. Some of them, the ones that couldn’t be annihilated on the spot, were incarcerated and subjected to inhumane treatment over the course of several years. In the case of this trio of heroes, they were targeted in a secret military operation and isolated, although, moving from cell to cell. No one could talk to them just as they were unauthorized to talk to anyone. This was a clear attempt to drive them insane. They couldn't exercise either and sometimes his movements were limited to a small square painted on the floor.
Claustrophobic cells with no toilet or sink were part of the strategy to affect them in the head. Occasionally, out of pity, the soldiers threw them the leftovers of meals with cigarette butts in the mix.
But notwithstanding all these torments, they found a way to communicate with each other by knocking on the walls with their knuckles. They could even play virtual chess this way and keep their brains active. Mujica was the one struggling the most with delusional psychosis and not even his mother’s vehement appeal to resist seemed to work. In turn, Ruso, who was a writer, was granted some perks after helping a sergeant winning his lover’s heart. He was the one writing the love letters. On one of those occasions, the friends had a unique chance to see one another; an exceptionally conceded stretch in the open air.
Regardless of some familiar routines, the hostile atmosphere is depicted with rigor, with the scenes shot at the Montevideo’s Libertad Prison and Pamplona’s Fort San Cristobal - a former correction facility for over a decade - reinforcing that positive attribute. While cells like these continue to exist in many countries, we learn through this description that they should be brought to a close because acts of inhumanity can never win, whatever the circumstances they are perpetrated.
Brechner forgot to expose an important detail: the political background of the characters. Even so, it was hard to take my eyes off the screen.