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‘The Inner Cage’ Review: The Leftovers

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Is there anything more quintessentially Italian than solving differences over a hearty plate of pasta and a glass of wine? Not as far as “The Inner Cage” is concerned, a ponderous prison drama that teeters on the verge of violence right up until one of the inmates gets to cooking.

The prison in question is the fictional Mortana, a crumbling, remote institution days away from being closed down. Most of the inmates have already been transferred to other facilities, leaving a forlorn few in limbo until a vague bureaucratic snafu has been corrected. Uncertain of their fate, these left-behinds grow increasingly petulant, especially when visitors and other diversions are canceled. Expecting them to eat the disgusting catered meals, though, is simply an insult too far.

Contrived and more than a little corny, the screenplay (by the director, Leonardo Di Costanzo, as well as Bruno Oliviero and Valia Santella) sets up a philosophical negotiation between freedom and control. While the handful of guards (led by the marvelously dolorous Toni Servillo) try to forestall a riot, a former Mafioso (Silvio Orlando) is granted permission to whip up palatable meals. Which gives him access to a cupboard full of knives.

Sadly, Di Costanza fails to exploit this alarming plot point, being more intent on mulling the increasing pointlessness of supervision amid peeling paint and failing electric power. Hampered by a depressingly dreary location and an earnestness that can edge into staginess (a roll call at the end is accompanied by the sound of phantom hands clapping), “The Inner Cage” isn’t exactly a feast for the senses. Even so, if you’re in the mood to listen, the film’s careful conversations occasionally serve up food for thought.

The Inner Cage
Not Rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes.

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