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DVD Review HTF Review: Carandiru (1 Viewer)


Stunt Coordinator
Jul 8, 2001


Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Year: 2003
Rated: R
Film Length: 145 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio: DD 5.1
Color/B&W: color
Languages: Portugese
Subtitles: English, French, Korean, Chinese, Thai
MSRP: $29.95
Release Date: September 21

The Feature
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The story of Brazil’s largest correctional facility, Carandiru, is a traumatic part of that country’s recent history. In 1992, a massive riot resulted in the deaths of over 100 inmates before the prison was imploded
“Carandiru” is famed director Hector Babenco’s (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) return to directing following an illness that kept him from working for a number of years. Because of the prison’s historical significance in Brazil – and the countless social and cultural issues that surround it – this is fertile ground for an important film.
Why, then, is it so inert? Though some of the film’s many characters leave a lasting impression, most of the film is – frankly – boring and confusing. Why are drug deals conducted openly in the cells of the prison? Why are the cells never locked, with inmates coming and going as they please? With the number of inmates that have AIDS, why was nothing done to keep it from spreading?
Perhaps Babenco is simply posing these questions, and letting us judge for ourselves if these problems led to Carandiru’s horrific end. But surely such a gifted filmmaker is aware that a prison movie with no plot is little more than a freak show.
Comparisons to “City of God,” another recent Brazilian film that saw wide release stateside, are inevitable. The two films both explore Brazil’s criminal culture, and expend a great deal of running time exploring the histories of the leads through flashbacks. In that light, “Carandiru’s” structural problems are particularly glaring.
Whereas “City of God” followed an ingenious, spiraling plotline that stops, starts and doubles back on itself, all without confusing the viewer, “Carandiru” is a paint-by-numbers affair, with each inmate stepping forward to tell his personal story. The format is designed to familiarize viewers with the characters, but it causes the plot to grind to a halt.

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For a new high definition transfer, this is not all it should be. Blacks are washed out with no shadow detail; detail and sharpness are mostly muddy; flesh tones are usually greenish. There’s a lot of graininess in many shots, which might well be intentional considering the subject matter. Whether some of these are stylistic choices, we’ll never know. It’s not a horrible transfer – few are, these days – but by the standards of most new releases, this is below average. One caveat: the prison riot scenes – the film’s climax – seem to have a punch the rest of the transfer lacks.

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This is a solid mix of a film with few artificial sound effects. Dialogue sounds bright and clear (of course, it’s in Portugese. It may be completely unintelligible. How would I know?). The surrounds are used sparingly, mostly for ambience, with a few exceptions. There’s a brief scene in which a helicopter tests the edges of the soundfield. The LFE track is also rarely used, making the occasional gunshot – and the riot scene – stand out as they should.

Special Features
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All features are 4:3 and stereo

Deleted Scenes are typically pretty dreadful in a film that’s already overlong. Surprisingly, then, some of these scenes are borderline essential to a viewer’s understanding of some of the film’s subplots. The scenes are in various stages of completion, none of them anamorphic.

The disc also contains Historical Footage of the real-life prison on which the film is based, and its subsequent implosion.

The Making of Carandiru contains much behind-the-scenes footage on the set of the shoot. Babenco looks like a fun guy to work for – he asks one actor whether his facial expression is part of his character or if he’s an epileptic.

The director’s commentary demonstrates how uninteresting these exercises can be. Babenco begins every scene by going into excruciating detail about …what the scene is about. Since we just watched the movie, though, we already have a pretty good idea in that regard. He’s at his best talking about the film’s big themes – the AIDS crisis; living conditions in prisons; rehabilitation and the minds of criminals. But, as this is rarely an “entertaining” film, neither is it an entertaining commentary. Like the film itself, it’s an intellectual exercise.

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Carandiru is a serious film about serious themes, and for that it should be admired. But it’s also a deeply flawed film, in both structure and conception. The transparent narrative device of prisoners coming to visit the doctor and telling him their stories would be less tiresome were so many of the characters not so overwritten and willfully quirky. Yes, these are inmates, and a certain amount of theatricality is probably accurate. If we know anything about Brazil’s history, though, the climax looms like the sinking of the Titanic, and we sit watching the seconds tick off.


Stunt Coordinator
Oct 5, 2003
Thanks for the review Nestor. I've been meaning to check this film out for quite some time.

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