Reviewed By Kevin Thomas
Posted 05/27/04 20:21:13

"One of the best films you will see all year."
5 stars (Awesome)

The Brazilian Tourist board must be loving all this. If it isn’t City of God showing a seedy underbelly of drugs and violence, it’s Bus 174 showing that the complete disregard for large sections of society always leads to explosive stand offs. If it’s not that, it is harrowing insights into overcrowded prisons. Hardly screams ‘Wish You Were Here’ does it? What is does produce though, is one of the best films you are likely to see all year.

Not so much one story, but a collection of about ten loosely held together by the new prison doctor who they all visit (mostly to be tested for AIDS). Mostly, they tell the story of how each of the inmates came to be in jail. These range from betrayal to revenge to just robberies going spectacularly wrong. The inmates themselves vary from paranoid crack-addicts to silicone-enhanced lady-boys, but not one of them are anything less than a wonderful addition to this tiny microcosm of the dark side of society.

Due to the varying nature of the inmates and the crimes for which they are serving their sentences, the stories alternate between the farcical and the disturbing; but the stories of the outside world are only half the tale. What happens inside the walls of the prison is just as gritty, harrowing or wonderful as anything that happens in the land of the free (as in outside, not America). It is this variety that leads Carandiru into ground that will make it one of the best movies of the year, and maybe even better than indie-cinema behemoth ‘City of God’.

Balance is something that was severely lacking from the other big Brazilian movie of the moment ‘Bus 174’. Where that was a two hour assault on your perception of society, this is far more open for enjoyment. You will almost certainly spend a lot of time thinking about the on screen action once the credits roll, but you never feel as though the movie is shouting at you to do so. It entertains far more often than it preaches, which is a far stealthier and more effective way of getting your message across.

That said, do not let it be said that this movie is easy to watch. Many scenes and storylines will leave you emotionally trembling. It often strays into subject areas that will push you close to the edge of what you can comfortably sit and watch, and often straight over. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the distressing culmination of the branch of the tale that covers one small time crack dealers and his younger brother, a sequence that will certainly have you desperately chanting ‘It’s only a movie’ in your head (followed by the chilling realisation that it is based on the experiences of a real doctor). Then, just when you think that things are wrapping up, a 15 minute sequence of cathartic violence commences. A sequence that is, sadly, only too believable. It remains the only movie of recent times to bring me to the verge of tears.

The whole affair is acted out by an impressive cast of emerging Brazilian actors (at least one is instantly recognisable from the streets of City of God), with some beautiful photography and claustrophobic lighting used to truly set the scene of the dirty, over crowded conditions that all of these tiny little bites of society are being chewed under.

Quite simply, this is a beautiful two hour experience. Harrowing and joyful in perfectly balanced amounts, this is the kind of film that comes along far too little. You will laugh, you will cry (you will check another review to see if they managed to avoid such tiresome clichés), and you will come away genuinely moved in a way that many films try for, but very few achieve. One of the best films you will see all year, and I like to think I don’t say that too often.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.