Three Days And Never Again
Russia 1998, 53 min.
His crime: shooting his commanding officer in the army – most likely because the man was trying to rape him. Sasha’s mother goes to visit him in prison. It is their first meeting in 8 years. They have three days together in a cell provided by the prison, and after that they will most likely never meet again, as the mother cannot afford to travel to the prison, which is located far away from where she lives. Three Days and Never Again is the documentary Alexandre Goutman made about the three days mother and son spend together.
The film doesn’t investigate the case further, nor does it describe the conditions in the Soviet army that probably could drive a sensitive young man to desperate actions (a law has just been passed which gives amnesty to deserters, recognising the terrible conditions which caused them to flee). But by focusing on the meeting with his mother, Goutman portrays Sasha as anything but a criminal. He turns out to be a caring, sympathetic, sensitive, intelligent young man, doing his best to comfort his unhappy mother. The film certainly leaves the viewer convinced that the penalty is far too harsh, and that Sasha’s destiny is a human tragedy that accidentally befell this family. Resigned to his fate, Sasha says this about his crime: “It was a fatal combination of circumstances, but I killed him anyway.”
Goutman captures the precious moments the two have together, showing the intensity, unlimited love and sorrow they share for every second they have been given. The camera is present, but stays very respectfully in the background; there is no time they seem to be disturbed by the camera.
The observational sequences in the cell are intercut with short passages that function as metaphors for captivity versus freedom, dwelling with the differences between inside and outside the prison. Inside, the focus is on handcuffs and bars and barbed wire, and we see Sasha getting fresh air in a tiny cage, with bars on the roof and an armed guard to watch him from above. Outside are the beautiful landscape and the wooden bridge that leads to the prison. Goutman cuts in shots with incidental people crossing the bridge. They are free to do it; Sasha will never be. As he puts it: “I am not starving or freezing. Only freedom is missing.”
In an emotional rather than journalistic way, Goutman points out the tragic aspect of such heavy penalties that ruin whole lives.