Friday, June 26, 2009


I will say right now that Brazil is my favorite film country. Two of my favorite movies ever come from Brazil, and I've never seen a bad movie from the country. Yes, they're often grounded in poverty, and yes, they're too often a touch depressing, but for the most part they're all good, and if you're making a movie in Brazil, of course poverty is going to show up, Brazil is a poor country.

Carandiru is also not a bad movie, and also has a lot to do with poverty. It's about a Brazilian prison. A doctor comes in to the prison, and learns about prison life, prisoners, and all manner of other stuff. The prison is over crowded, there's a lot of sodomy and AIDS, but other than that it seems like a suspiciously nice place.

Here's a case of what I'd like to call the Shawshank Conundrum. In order to make a prison movie that people enjoy, they have to like the characters. In order to like the characters, they can't be all that bad, generally misunderstood and in jail because of an unfortunate series of events. If they're not all that bad, people don't want to see bad things happen to them. Suddenly, jail doesn't seem all that bad, because everyone's good-natured and friendly. Instead of being a deterrent, prison seems like a fun and exciting place, apart from all the sodomy, of course.

So it is with Carandiru, which tells the stories of about a million different prisoners and makes them likable. Unfortunately, it also shortchanges the negative aspects of prison - the overcrowding, the really terrible conditions - and makes it seem a bit too fun and enjoyable. Oh sure, there are hints of the negatives, and murder and drugs and whatnot, but then there's an amusing gay wedding, or the wacky visitor's day where a character has to keep his two wives apart in a wacky Three's Company riff.

It's not a bad movie, as I already said. The various vignettes are interesting, and one actually begins to care about the prison and all the characters within. When they do wrong, you feel a bit betrayed even, since you begin to trust them, even though you know they're all criminals. But I can't help but think, like all prison movies, it takes a bit too light a touch.

Maybe I'm wrong about prison, maybe it really is a place of camaraderie, games and free Johnny Cash concerts. I'd just like to see a prison film where it doesn't seem like a place you might want to go, apart from the sodomy. what I was thinking before the end of the movie.

For two hours, we begin to like jail, the prisoners, and the events themselves. Carandiru seems like a summer camp almost. It's a dastardly trick, making us like everyone. After two hours of getting to know everyone, having the police come in guns ablaze, indiscriminately murdering everyone they see, it's a kick in the balls. Discussion of Carandiru cannot take place without mentioning the massacre that inspired the film in the first place. They might be prisoners, but by making them human, it ensures we have some investment in them, and the events that end the film.

This is why you can never properly judge something before seeing the end. Sometimes it turns right around and does something important, and you understand the value of the preceding two hours and the film as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment