The notorious prison in the Chilean city of Valparaiso has had its day. Now, after 150 years, it’s about to close down. Arcana resulted from a cultural project set up to pay tribute to the lives of its countless prisoners.
Filmmaker Cristobal Vicente Cruz visited the prison almost every day in the year before the prison shut its doors, in order to win the trust of its inmates. The mostly male prisoners seem to have forgotten all about the camera as they cook, watch TV, smoke and drink mate. They offer us an intimate glimpse into a hidden, secret world normally shut off from outsiders—a world with its own rhythm and rules. Mostly, the grainy black-and-white observational shots speak for themselves, but once in a while an inmate or the prison director gets to speak. The meditative mood—some scenes take place in silence, while others are accompanied by insistent, repetitive sounds—evokes a place where time seems to have stood still. The living conditions—rusty beds and overflowing squat toilets—also belong to some earlier age.