In a film full of lobe-searing scenes, Cell 211's opening – in which a tormented prisoner improvises a blade from a cigarette butt and opens his arteries – burns itself in the mind particularly strongly. It sets a visceral tone that never lets up, as rookie guard Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) finds himself caught up in a prison riot ahead of his first day on the job. Disguising himself as a prisoner, he quickly earns the trust of chief con Malamadre (Luis Tosar), while wardens and politicians try to protect the father-to-be and rescue the ETA terrorists being held hostage.
The results are morally complex, a quality obviously appreciated by The Goyas, who showered the film with eight awards (and if there was a ‘best casting director’ award, it would have been a shoe-in for that too – the prisoners are terrifyingly believable). Any dips into melodrama are levelled out by its unpredictability, sympathies shifting multiple times in a kaleidoscope of greys that refuses to settle into blacks and whites.