on May 14, 2004 by Susan Green
The now defunct "Oz," a rather disturbing HBO series about a fictitious U.S. prison, may prompt nostalgia for anyone who catches "Carandiru." The Brazilian-Argentinean feature by Hector Babenco ("The Kiss of the Spider Woman") offers much of the same violence but with far less insight into criminal behavior or the exigencies of the penal system. His 1980 art-house masterpiece, "Pixote," was a detailed and unflinching look at abandoned children living on the exceedingly mean streets of Rio. The new film can't measure up.Convicts at a Sao Paulo penitentiary reveal sordid life histories to a sympathetic visiting doctor (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos). He merely smiles at their antics. They occasionally murder each other over trifles, but such small-scale bloodletting pales next to the massacre by soldiers responding to a small riot. As the tone suddenly changes from amusing to grim, Babenco waits until the last minute to hurriedly provide a political context for the government's decision to allow wanton slaughter of inmates. Starring Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Milton Goncalves, Ailton Graca, Rodrigo Santoro, Gero Camilo, Caio Blat, Dionisio Neto, Wagner Noura and Julia Ianina. Directed by Hector Babenco. Written by Victor Navas, Hector Babenco and Fernando Bonassi. Produced by Hector Babenco and Oscar Kramer. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Portuguese-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong bloody violence/carnage, language, sexuality and drug use. Running time: 145 min
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