starring Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Milton Gonçalves, Ivan de Almeida, Ailton Graça
screenplay by Hector Babenco, Fernando Bonassi, Victor Navas, based on the book Estação Carandiru by Dráuzio Varella
directed by Hector Babenco
by Walter Chaw Argentine director Hector Babenco's ninth film, Carandiru is his fourth that, at least in an ancillary fashion, has something to do with prison (the others being Lució Flávio, Pixote, and Kiss of the Spider Woman), and it's easily the least of them, justifying the men-behind-bars tropes and queen stereotypes by hiding behind its ostensible basis in Dráuzio Varella's non-fiction fiction. The film was adapted from a book that is based on a true story, the degrees of separation from reality dramatic enough as to render its hero doctor a smirking, condescending Virgil in a stock Inferno peopled with an all-too familiar panoply: smart con; murderous con who finds God; artistic elderly con; brutal street con; possibly innocent naïf con; philosophical con; and so on into nausea. The picture makes mistakes early and often, deciding to condense hundreds of stories into a few basic sketches and then choosing to recreate each of the pastiche criminal's life story in vignette flashbacks that do more to celebrate the brassy hedonism of São Paulo than underscore its underbelly of desperation and criminality. That carnival atmosphere comes off as a fragrant bouquet of patronizing pap that revels in its sordidness yet feels curiously naïve--"Oz" by a creative team that doesn't appear to know that the bar on prison dramas has been raised since Brute Force.