PUNISHMENT (aka STRAFF) – A Review by Jenn Rohm
Halden Maximum Security Prison in Norway, known for being the most humane one of the programs available for its inmates, is the subject of Øystein Mamen’s debut feature documentary Punishment. Two Jesuit priests lead a 21-day silent retreat with exercises, tasks, and meditative reflection. The inmate may follow (or not follow) any religious belief. This is a program to provide tools and an opportunity to look inside themselves to determine their self-worth and if redemption is possible.
The film was made in such a way that the audience experiences a few small moments of what these men are living through for 21 days. With limited moments that conversation is allowed during the retreat, there are stretches of silence while seeing what the inmates spend this time of reflection.
Along with following the flow of time, there are also chapters advising on the focus of the exercises, tasks, and meditation of love, evil, forgiveness, and hope. The inmates allow for some of their thoughts to be shared and not all are what I expected.
In my research I found myself going down a rabbit hole of how this prison is different from the American system. That included looking at the way of life in Norway vs. America and how the people in the country treat one another as well. One thing I do think would be worth further investigation is that before release a job and support system are established. Having a reason to get out of bed and a way to contribute along with established support does assist with a reduction in recidivism.
This film will stay with the viewer and hopefully lead to conversations on ways to adjust incarceration practices. With the end goal of reducing criminal activity. It would be interesting to see where those who participated are in 5 years and again in 10 years.
Director: Øystein Mamen
MPAA Rating: not rated
Selig Rating: 3.5 stars
Runtime: 1h 47m
Festival Entry: Slamdance Film Festival 2024, Tromsø International Film Festival 2024
Country/Language: Norway/Norwegian with English subtitles
Trailer: Punishment Official Trailer
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.
4 Stars – Good movie/show
3 Stars – OK movie/show
2 Stars – Well there was nothing else…
1 Star – Total waste of time.