Finland, 2001, 82 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Jouni Hiltunen
Thieves' World is a very grim documentary, focusing on three Russian prisoners in the remote island prison of Ogny.
Jouni Hiltunen had made a number of films using archival material, as well as various portraits of ordinary people in Finland. He wanted to make a documentary about prisoners and then, in the late '90s, noticed the tattoos that the prisoners wore. This gave him the idea for this film, a focus on three prisoners and their life in the prison, as well as the extraordinary range of tattoos that they had. He also tried to go into the minds of the prisoners, interviewing them, showing them with their exercise and, especially with two of them, one Orthodox, one Hari Krishna, at their prayer and meditation. The film is grim watching, and makes the audience feel as if it is interned with the prisoners in a claustrophobic atmosphere. It can be compared with fiction films like The Shawshank Redemption or autobiographical films like Chopper.
1. The impact of the film? Grim, the portrait of the prisoners, the details their life in prison, the background of their crimes?
2. The prison itself, the building, the interiors and exteriors, the people coming in with food and the necessaries for the prison life? The prison being filmed near the water, on the causeway? The isolation of the prison?
3. The focus on the tattoos, the close-ups, the camera staying on them, the choices of the prisoners with the tattoos on their chests, on their arms, on their backs? The religious dimensions of some of the tattoos?
4. The musical score, themes, choral music, religious music?
5. The title, the focus on the three prisoners, their explanations of the hierarchies within the prison, the functions of each group, the influences, the exploitation? The possibility of remaining remote from these groups? The reality of isolation?
6. The three prisoners and the technique used to show them: close-ups on visuals, their tattoos, their cells and how they behaved in their cells, the guards coming and their identifying themselves and their crimes? The explanation of their crimes, the murders, robberies? The amoral tone of the comments - especially the man who felt he had to murder the five men who owed money to his friend? Yet, the seeming change of heart, the life sentence after the hearing of their punishment, their reaction and non-reactions? The fact that they were serving life sentences, in isolation, the never getting out and its effect - yet, on the other hand, offering some security?
7. The exercise regime and its effect on their bodies? The spiritual regime, the man with his Orthodox prayers and icons? The Hari Krishna and his experience of conversion and his meditation?
8. The prisoner who worked, his sewing, keeping himself occupied, achieving?
9. The film as a revelation about prison, the effect of a life sentence, the adequacy of punishment for crimes? The attempt to get into the mind and the emotions of such prisoners? The reality of the Russian temperament in this situation compared with prisoners from other and even more volatile cultures?