Film-Forward Review: [CARANDIRU]

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Directed & Produced by: Hector Babenco.
Written by: Daniel Filho, Victor Navas & Hector Babenco, based on the book Carandiru Station by Dráuzio Varella.
Director of Photography: Walter Carvalho.
Edited by: Mauro Alice.
Music by: André Abujamra.
Released by: Sony Classics.
Country of Origin: Brazil/Argentina. 145 min. Rated: R.
With: Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Rodrigo Santoro & Gero Camilo.

This adaptation of the Brazilian bestseller recounts the experiences of Dráuzio Varella, a doctor in the vastly overcrowded Carandiru penitentiary - a powder keg waiting to explode. Seven thousand men are crammed in a facility designed for 3,000. Used as a plot device, the good doctor dispenses medicine with a smile as he patiently listens to the prisoners tell their tales of woe. Other inmates gather around commiserating - they could be at a campfire instead. (During the doctor’s first day of duty, many readily admit to having sex with men, unbelievably without hesitation.) The flashbacks of how these men landed in the big house are a rehashing of other prison films, complete with betrayal, payback, and scheming bitches, uh, women. (Almost all of the women are transparently portrayed.)

Cowriter/director Babenco (Pixote) clearly interweaves the many subplots, and each character manages to be differentiated from the other. Although Carandiru is two-and-a-half hours long, Babenco never focuses long enough on any given story line to flesh out the stock characters. The romance between the transvestite Lady Di and the lovesick No Way could not be more predictable, and the dialogue spells everything out. As soon as some one warns, “a quiet obedient jail, a sign of trouble,” sure enough fighting breaks out, leading to the bloody confrontation with the overreactive police. One hundred and eleven unarmed prisoners were killed in the actual 1992 riot, and eventually the prison was closed down and demolished. Told from the inmates’ point of view, the reasons for the massacre, let alone its repercussions, are barely touched upon. Kent Turner
May 14, 2004



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