Berlinale 2024: Reas (2024)

Reas is an extraordinary documentary and musical by Lola Arias set in a women’s prison in Argentina, unlike anything you’ll have seen before.

Jailhouse Rock

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Reas follows 26-year-old Yoseli Arias as she is admitted to prison for drug smuggling to serve a four-and-half-year sentence, until she is eventually released. Although she says she prefers to keep herself to herself, she is told forcibly by her new cellmate that they are a family in prison and they look out for and support each other. They share everything. Yoseli quickly learns to comply.

The inmates are a lumpy mixture of cis and trans women. They tell their heart-rending stories, do dance classes led by another prisoner in the unconducive environment and form a rock band, which Yoseli at first declines to join, and which performs a song rather like Walk on the Wild Side, written around the individual women’s stories.

During the film the prisoners bizarrely and spontaneously break out into synchronised dance numbers and songs, in the same way as in a musical, all because they cannot help but burst out with fun despite their incarceration. Even the thick-set, brutal female warders do – in their own way.

There are very moving scenes on the day visitors come, in particular when we see five women sitting around a table miming wordlessly like an acting exercise in connecting, showing how to convey deeper meanings when relatives don’t know what words to say. Another moving scene is when the women expose and explain the meaning of their tattoos.

Reas stars real prisoners – as well as the main character Yoseli, there’s trans Ignacio Amador Rodriguez whom she marries in prison in a joyous ceremony, and in other roles Estefy Harcastle, Carla Canteros, Noelia Perez and Paulita Asturayme. There’s no rehabilitation given for them in prison apart from what they provide themselves. Other that that, it’s just counting down the days to release.

Reas is an incredibly moving and audacious film. It shouldn’t work but it does. Beautifully. The emotional walls we protect ourselves with are mirrors of the dilapidated prison walls that surround the women. What are prisons for, the film implicitly asks.

Actress and writer Lola Arias is a theatre director and director of installations in London and Buenos Aires and of the award-winning 2018 feature Theatre of War.

Reas had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in the Focus section on 18 February 2024. International sales are by Luxbox and international representation by The PR Factory.

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