The Excessive Punishment

in 30th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Diego Faraone

In law you can work with two different books – the civil code and the penal code. The difference between one and the other is that the civil code applies to rich people and the penal code applies to poor people. Of course this is a simplification, but it can’t be denied that there is a big truth behind this statement and it’s no news for anyone that justice works unequally with different social classes.

The observational documentary Docile Bodies (Los cuerpos dóciles) looks at the fierce everyday task of a criminal lawyer, dedicated to defend petty criminals: picpockets, muggers, raiders of small shops. Alfredo García Kalb dedicates his life to those who will be relentlessly doomed by the full weight of criminal justice; the lawyer knows prison from the inside (he himself served time) and once he was freed he decided to study law. Now, he devotes his energies to help those who really need him.

Argentinian directors Diego Gachassin and Matías Scarvaci use their cameras to register the everyday routine of this “bigger than life” character. His imposing presence is the element that gives real strength to the film; we can see his plain and friendly relationship with his clients, touring the neighborhood, playing videogames with his kids. But also and especially in the tribunal, in which he displays his speeches, presents alibis, objects, destroys arguments by others and performs tricks to prevent the scales of justice from always leaning to the same side. With his load of inexhaustible energy, Alfredo is a hundred percent cinema.

One of the most interesting things about this documentary is that in the main trial which Alfredo prepares, his clients are, undoubtedely, criminals. He is not deffending rapists or drug dealers, but just a couple of boys who commited a big mistake. But we know for sure they are guilty of the charges presented against them and that it would be necessary to give them some kind of penalty. What becomes clear during the movie is that an oversized sentence awaits them, and that the period that they would spend in jail will be devastating, both for them and for their families. Without proposing speeches, messages or guiding the audience in a concrete direction, Docile Bodies is the raw registration of one of the most dreadful and endemic realities. One that  will not leave the viewer unchanged.

The movie was one of the greatests contenders in the solid Argentinian Competition this year, but the award was instead given to the interesting The Movement (El movimiento) by Benjamin Naishtat. But as we already know, we live in a world in which it’s quite difficult to see justice well applied.

Edited by Yael Shuv