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By Bradley Gibson | January 22, 2024

SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! Norwegian director Øystein Mamen presents Punishment as a meditation on guilt and forgiveness. In this documentary, four inmates from the Norwegian maximum security prison Halden have applied and been chosen to enter a three-week Jesuit silent retreat. Two priests guide them. Meals, exercise, and communal time together are spent in silence, except for occasional recorded music. The priests lead them in daily 30-minute one-on-one discussions of ethics with a religious theme but do not preach to the men.

The quiet time provides an opportunity for reflection, with activities chosen by the men themselves. The clerical spiritual guides act as therapists, mirroring their thoughts and offering a neutral background of questions and considerations. Mamen discovers a slowly emerging narrative of how this peaceful setting allows the inmates to focus on their thoughts and emotions. The environment enforces a space away from the usual prison routine where the incarcerated cannot avoid self-examination. In these quiet moments, they must confront themselves and work through whatever remorse and forgiveness they find.

“…four inmates…enter a three-week Jesuit silent retreat.”

Coming from a maximum security prison, one would expect the men to be short-tempered and violent, but none are. In this context, they are compassionate and collaborative, almost brotherly with one another. This could be a cultural influence, having as much to do with them being Norwegian as it does the intense situation they find themselves in.

Punishment shows how they help each other and the priests with daily activities at the retreat. This may be a result of the fact that the retreat is a welcome respite from prison, and to ensure they can stay, these convicts are on their best behavior. Or it could be that these applicants were chosen for those qualities. It seems clear that inmates who have accepted responsibility for their crimes and whose personalities are in relatively good working order would benefit most from this retreat. In any event, it is startling that men one would think would be loud, dull, and violent seem to be as peaceful as the priests they are working with.

Punishment (2023)

Directed and Written: Øystein Mamen

Starring: Bjorn, Hasan, Christian, John, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Punishment Image

"…will certainly provide you some points to consider about punishment and rehabilitation."

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