Sunday, August 10, 2008

Film Review - Carandiru****

This is a film by Hector Babencu, who is perhaps best known for Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Carandiru tells the story of the prison riot that ended with the deaths of 111 prisoners inside the State Penitentiary in Sau Paulo, Brazil.

Babencu shows the story through the experiences of the prison doctor, who arrives at Carandiru to try and teach safer sex and AIDS prevention to the inmates. Babencu shows the dismal and squalid living conditions inside the gaol and the acts of brutality and criminality that have brought the prison's inmates within its walls.

Most of the film shows the lives of the prisoners, both inside the prison and often the crimes that led them to be locked up. Babency although he shows the prisoners to be human beyond their crimes does not try to cover up what these men are, he does not shy away from the drug inspired murders, the acts of petty love and hate fuelled jealousy and greed that has brought these men within the walls of Carandiru.

Within the prison, as without, life carries on. There are friendships, love and sex. There are men you would trust, men you depend upon and men you do not like, Carandiru is a concentrated and degrading microcosm of the outside world.

The prison Governor, seems quite progressive within the structures of the system. On one hand he hands out strict solitary punishments for a man who has assaulted a guard, but then he allows the same prisoner to have his family visit him privately as the man does not wish to have his beautiful daughter around the 'scum' who inhabit the prison.

The massacre of prisoners for which Carandiru became infamous takes place at the end of the film. Babencu states that only the prisoners and the Riot Squad knew what really took place within the prison walls, and it must be supposed that neither of those parties are the most reliable of witnesses, but the facts seem to speak for themselves. One hundred and eleven prisoners were shot dead, no Police officers suffered more than minor injuries.

The riot begins over a something and nothing argument and quickly escalates until the whole goal is in uproar. As the film shows, and as seems to have really happened, the Governor appealed for calm, the rioting stopped, but the authorities had decided to teach the prisoners a lesson. The feared Riot Squad entered Carandiru and the massacre began, Police with automatic weapons against terrified and trapped prisoners.

Carandiru is a powerful and absorbing film, Babencu has told us that these men are bad men, but the punishment delivered upon them is acted out of hatred and sadism by other men who are equally as evil, but sanctioned by a police uniform. Carandiru is in Portuguese, most of the actors I have never heard of (with the exception of Rodrigo Santoro playing Lady Di, who appeared in Lost), but it is an absorbing and powerful film, intelligent in its story telling and well balanced both in its portrayal of the characters involved and in the depiction of the brutal slayings and the immediate aftermath.

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