Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Hailed as the triumphant return of Hector Babenco, you may be forgiven for asking, "Who he?" As the Brazilian director of Kiss Of The Spider Woman and Ironweed in the Eighties, he became the breath that freshened the air of Hollywood - briefly.

Now, he re-emerges on home ground with an epic prison movie, based on Drauzio Varella's experience as the sole medical officer at the notorious Carandiru jail in Sao Paolo, before it was demolished after riots.

Copy picture

The recreation of life behind bars for murderers and drug dealers is depicted with astonishing energy and style. The performances are uniformly good, while, at times, shaking the foundations with unrestrained verocity.

Unlike another Brazilian street movie, City Of God, there exists at its core an underlying sentimentality. The prison has an organic life. Inmates look after each other and administer rough justice for acts of violence that are deemed to have broken a code of honour. The guards stay back and allow the rule of law - convict law - to keep the pressure of confinement from blowing the roof off. There is a flexibility, based on acceptance, between governor and governed, respecting the rights of each and the other, while recognising their shared humanity.

Babenco focuses on a handful of prisoners. With the use of flashbacks, their lives and crimes are superficially investigated, while the doctor (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos), who performs the role of educator and Everyman, remains in the neutral zone.

A rich man's morality is wasted on the hardcore; killing seems easier than sleep. Carandiru is another country, with its own idiosyncrasies. Cliches are noticable by their absence, although the lags are surprisingly well equipped with human qualities and the degree of self-expression allowed by the prison staff reflects Christian decency on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

Babenco conveys the big picture, including the vicious suppression of dissent, deemed worthy of riot status, extremely well. It's on the personal level that a softening occurs, as if pain as raw as this needs to be diluted to make it palatable for public consumption.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2004
Share this with others on...
Carandiru packshot
Fictionalised reimagining of a doctor's life looking after the populace of a Sao Paulo jail.
Amazon link

Director: Hector Babenco

Writer: Hector Babenco, Fernando Bonassi, Victor Navas, based on Estacao Carandiru by Drauzio Varella

Starring: Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Milhem Cortaz, Milton Goncalves, Ivasn de Almeida, Ailton Graca, Maria Luisa Mendonca, Aida Leiner, Rodrigo Santoro, Gero Camilo

Year: 2003

Runtime: 145 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Brazil/Argentina


Search database: