The Portland International Film Fest is in full swing, and if you haven't already, check out of coverage here and here, wherein we help guide you toward the films that are particularly worthwhile and, dare we say, even exciting! My pick for tonight is a dark one, based on creepy-ass real-life events which took place at the real-life creepy-ass Bastøy Prison in Norway. Nowadays it's—I shit you not—the world's first "eco-prison," in which the inmates live in wooden cottages and enjoy such bucolic pastimes as horseback riding and fishing, but its original incarnation was as a juvenile detention/orphanage for wayward young boys.
In director Marius Holst's depiction here, Bastøy as it was in the first half of the 20th Century was a nightmarish institution in which staff members abused their student-inmates physically and sexually, disciplined them with hard labor and withholding of food, and punished them by locking them in confined cages wherein they were forced to remain lying on their backs. (In one scene of the film a character says that one boy bashed his head on the sides of the cage so much that he lost the ability to speak.) Included in the film is a dramatization of a real-life uprising that took place when the students violently revolted en masse against the staff, headed up by Stellan Skarsgård as the conflicted headmaster. How much of the rest of the film's depiction really took place remains murky (violent rebellions are not generally taken as favorable reviews of an institution's hospitality), but Bastøy was clearly a desperate place to be, and the film is infused with a riveting Lord of the Flies fury. Tonight is your last chance to catch it on a big screen as part of the festival (and who knows if it will come back as a wider release), so don't sleep.
King of Devil's Island screens at the Whitsell Auditorium in the Portland Art Museum at 6 pm tonight.
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