Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Brazilian documentarian Maria Ramos is no stranger to the territory of her country’s justice system, having previously turned her camera on it in Justice (2004). Here she returns to examine the youth arm of the system, looking at the way juvenile trials and detention work – or don’t.

Rather than heaping condemnation on everyone involved – as you might expect – Ramos just tells it like it is, although it is clearly a system buckling under the weight of numbers of detainees, with cell conditions cramped and inadequate.

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What also emerges is a picture of a system struggling to know what to do with its young offenders – which may well sound familiar to people in the UK, especially those who watched the recent BBC Scotland documentaries about juvenile detention, Boys Behind Bars and Boys Beyond Bars.

Kids with crimes ranging from petty theft to the patricide of an abusive father come before judge Luciana Fiala, who in the manner of a strict school ma’am tries to get the children to engage mentally with the crimes they have committed and attempts to select the appropriate sentence for them and inject them with a sense of an ability to change. It’s clear, she too, feels the futility of the situation as, in one particularly memorable case, a girl says she would rather go back to the grim grind of detention than receive a pardon and be sent back to the hopelessness of her favela.

It is this sense of futility that pervades the film, as listless kids with few prospects see them narrow even further.

What is particularly impressive about the direction is that Brazilian laws forbid the identification of young offenders. To get round this, Ramos keeps her camera focussed on the judges and parents of the offenders, and intercuts this footage with non-professional actors – found in the same favelas where the kids in trouble live – to impressive effect. There is never a sense that truth has been lost and, in some ways, that the kids playing the roles may well be just a hair’s breadth away from being in the defendants’ position themselves, adds to the weight of the documentary.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2008
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Fly-on-the-wall look at the juvenile detention system in Brazil.

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