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Respectful and lovingly humorous

Regissør: Øystein Mamen

DOCUMENTARY / In well-composed black-and-white images, Øystein Mamen follows four men in Halden prison. All inmates have committed particularly serious crimes. He shows what recognition and charity can do to people.


For 15 years has cinematographer Øystein Mamen been the man behind the visual expression on both feature and documentary films created by, among others, Ole Giæver, Dag Jon Haugerud and Margreth Olin. Now Mamen has his directorial debut with the documentary film Penalty at the Tromsø International Film Festival.

The applause is long after the premiere screening of Penalty in the World Theater. Understandable. The scene is set for 107 minutes Halden imprisoned or rather a small corner of the prison, which has been fitted up for a kind of monastery. A male and a female pastor lead the retreat. Here, a small number of the male inmates participate in a three-week voluntary retreat, where silence, conversations and reflection are what take up most of the space. In well-composed black-and-white images, Mamen follows four men. All inmates who have committed particularly serious crimes.

At a slow pace, Mamen shows what recognition and charity can do to people. One of the men's tasks is to write down what they want forgiveness for. The paper is nailed to a cross, after which they each throw their wishes on a fire. A very special atmosphere unfolds around the fire. It is clear that several people feel relieved. In a subsequent conversation with the priest, one of the men says that the murder he has committed was not on the paper. It will simply be too easy, he says, I have only served five years.

The audience gets to know the men along the way and Mamen knows how to let his audience interact with the film. Do we agree, what would I do myself? Forgiveness and reconciliation are the themes both in the film and in the three weeks the men experience. Here there is time and silence for thoughts. But there is no condemnation.

The four walls

An inmate must leave. We follow him through a myriad of doors that are unlocked, eventually reaching a prison guard who kindly points out that it's cold outside so he should bring a jacket. Back from the exit, the prisoner tells us that the world outside is violent and everything moves quickly. He needs the four walls and the locked door of the cell.

The priest knocks on the cell door. Comes out with the inmate who is blindfolded. «May I wash your feet?» At first the answer is no, but then he gives permission. The four men seem visibly moved after the foot bath and talk about what a special experience it was. The washing of the feet is a clear reference to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples to remind them that no one is so important that they cannot show humility to others.

Director's debut

When the applause dies down, Øystein Mamen and Are Høidal make themselves available for the audience's questions. Høidal is a former prison manager at Halden Prison and is the man who gave permission and introduced regular retreats in the prison. It is now ten years ago and many hundreds of inmates have participated. Documentation shows that there is very little recidivism when the prisoners have participated in a retreat, Høidal says. Three years ago, female prisoners were also given the opportunity to get on retreats.

Mamen has created a respectful and loving humoristic film that is difficult to shake off. A great directorial debut with Mamen's always beautiful visual compositions. Penalty is a film that leaves the audience in deafening silence.

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