Alone in Four Walls / Allein in vier Wanden (2007) Film Review

Alone in Four Walls is a beautifully-shot look at youths who spend their time in reformatory facilities for youngsters between the ages up to the age of the fourteen. Husband and wife duo Alexandra Westmeier and Inigo Westmeier have managed to capture the stories of a population largely unknown to the world. Most of the boys in the film are from rural areas of Russia, and most of them are in the reformatory prison due to theft; a couple are murderers and rapists (although the rapists largely declined to participate in the film).

The facility the boys are at is practically a school. They are given hot meals, classes to take, and books to read. For some, the facility is a luxury that offers regular meals and a more stable life; Despite being forced to do occasional chores and missing their families, the boys enjoy comraderie with those their age and have no real worries. There seem to be no huge disciplinary problems, and almost everyone seems more content than discontent.

About eight boys are featured closely in the film, with each of them revealing varying degrees of information about their lives in the prison and prior to the prison. However, the film primarily focuses on Tolya, a good-looking and seemingly very intelligent fourteen year old who was put in the prison at the age of thirteen for murder. His counterpart to the murder, who was sixteen, was given twice the sentence, at an adult facility.

There is no denying that this film is powerful, but there were many things that the film only loosely touched on. As powerful as it was already, it could have been more powerful.

During the Q&A after the film, the audience raised many questions with regards to where the boys were from, how they fared afterwards, what the areas they came like were from, etc. Although the filmmakers did visit the families and neighborhoods of some of the boys, causation was a factor that was largely ignored. It was somewhat implied, but not enough. There were a few statements by boys who said they had to steal to buy clothes or food for themselves, but for the large part, the film left you wondering why those boys were in there in the first place. For those of us who are not as familiar with Russia as the filmmakers are, many questions seemed unanswered (although to a Russian, the answers would surely be obvious).

In some ways, it is hurtful of the film to place so much emphasis on Tolya. Tolya seems to stand out as a logical, peaceful kid, despite his history of murder. The fact that he has a tense relationship with his father who will not return his letters — and who later kicked Tolya out of the house, according to Westmeier — makes it all the more obvious just how little we know about the boys.

The last statistic of the film revealed that 91% of the boys who went to those reformatory facilities would not reform and would later find themselves in adult facilities, where they would face harsher conditions and harsher sentences. This disturbing statistic was yet another reminder that this film gives us a view inside the lives of these boys, but fails to answer why the boys would keep committing crimes, especially when they seem generally well-adjusted.

Director:
Alexandra Westmeier

Producer:
Alexandra Westmeier, Inigo Westmeier

Editor:

Alexandra Westmeier

Screenwriter:

Titus Maderlechner

Cinematographer:

Inigo Westmeier

Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

In 2017, Vee released the narrative short film, Searching Skies — which touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States — and co-organized The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. 2022 sees the release of their next short film, Reckless Spirits, which is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature film.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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