If not for the alliance of gay prisoner Marta (Laura García), Julia would quickly become a victim of the predatory mothers of the ward, but tension rises when the baby is born and Julia's mother (Elli Medeiros) wants to take him home.
It's a bizarre set-up: babies and children living behind bars with their convict mothers, witnessing daily cruelty and catfights from an early age. What crime have these children committed, but being born to the wrong mother? Yet they must live among them like outlaws.
Throughout the movie, the same thought occurred to me- who would do this to a child? Unless their foster home consists of the cast of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," what could be worse than being subjected to this? Surely a infertile Christian housewife would beat a childhood in the slammer.
Still, Martina Gusman brings a lot of credibility and a sensitivity to what is otherwise a rather selfish character. The pace is quick and the plot unpredictable, and the film wisely chooses not to answer certain questions such as, "what exactly happened between Julia and her boyfriend"' and "does Julia accept Marta's advances because she is turned on by them, or because she simply does not know what else to do?"
The main cast is surprisingly strong; the supporting cast is a little weaker, but doesn't hold the film back too much. You may recognize Rodrigo Santoro, playing Julia's husband's friend Ramiro, as Laura Linney's sweet, shy suitor in "Love Actually."
"Lion's Den" is a thought-provoking depiction of the self-centered things parents will do to keep their children close to them, and Martina Gusman gives a memorable performance as a Mama Lion trying to keep herself and her son together no matter what. It is worth watching for its incisive lead performance and nonjudgmental portrayal of it's subjects. Though, I can't help thinking, a bit more judgment of these ladies might be in order.