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Theatre release poster
Directed by Hector Babenco
Produced by Hector Babenco
Oscar Kramer
Written by Hector Babenco
Fernando Bonassi
Victor Navas
Dráuzio Varella
Starring Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos
Music by André Abujamra
Cinematography Walter Carvalho
Editing by Mauro Alice
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Globo Filmes
Release date(s) Brazil:
March 21, 2003
United States:
January 16, 2003
March 18, 2004
Running time 147 minutes
Country Brazil
Language Portuguese

Carandiru (2003) is a Brazilian and Argentine film directed by Hector Babenco. It is based on the book Estação Carandiru (English: Carandiru Station) by Dr. Drauzio Varella, a physician and AIDS specialist, who is portrayed in the film by Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos.[1]

Carandiru tells some of the stories that occurred in Carandiru Penitentiary, which was the biggest prison in Latin America. The story culminates with the 1992 massacre where 111 prisoners died, 102 killed by police. In 2002, one year before the release of the film, the Carandiru Penitentiary was closed.



This episodic story is set in São Paulo's notorious jail known as Carandiru, one of Latin America's largest and most violent prison systems.

The doctor (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos) is an oncologist who arrives in the jail as a volunteer to test the prisoners for HIV infection.

Seeing the disease, overcrowding, and rampant circulation of drugs, the doctor realizes much of the prison is controlled by the inmates. They decorate their cells and have an established pecking order. The strong inhabit messy individual suites, and the weak are jammed together, as many as sixteen sharing a 100-square-foot (9.3 m2) cell.

Several narratives develop in the film: the attempted murder of Peixeira (Milhem Cortaz), the solitary confinement of Chico (Milton Gonçalves), and the romance between Lady Di (Rodrigo Santoro) and No Way (Gero Camilo).

The doctor establishes a routine and comes to see the prisoners as survivors.

The picture ends with a violent prison riot that historically took place on October 2, 1992. The repression of the riot became known as the Carandiru Massacre.



Director Hector Babenco shot the film on location in the actual penitentiary, and in neo-realist fashion he used a huge cast of novice actors - some of whom are former inmates.[2]



The film was first presented at the II Panorama Internacional Coisa de Cinema in Brazil on March 21, 2003. It opened wide in Brazil on April 11, 2003. It was the highest-grossing Brazilian film of the year and third overall (behind Bruce Almighty and The Matrix Reloaded),[3] attracting over 4.6 million spectators.[4]

Later the film was entered into the 2003 Cannes Film Festival in France on May 19.[5]

The picture was screened at various film festivals, including: the Toronto Film Festival, Canada; the Hamburg Film Festival, Germany; the Edda Film Festival, Ireland; the Muestra Internacional de Cine, Mexico; the Sundance Film Festival, USA; the Bangkok International Film Festival, Thailand; and others.

In the United States it opened on a limited basis on May 14, 2004.

Critical reception

Roger Ebert, critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, appreciated the realism of the drama, and wrote, "Hector Babenco's Carandiru is a drama that adds a human dimension [a] ...Dantean vision. Shot on location inside a notorious prison in São Paulo, it shows 8,000 men jammed into space meant for 4,000, and enforcing their own laws in a place their society has abandoned. The film, based on life, climaxes with a 1992 police attack on the prison during which 111 inmates were killed...[the film] is a reminder that although Carandiru has disappeared, prison conditions in Brazil continue to be inhuman."[6]

Stephen Holden, film critic for The New York Times, liked the film and its social message, and wrote, "Despite its confusion and the broadness of many of its strokes, the movie belongs to a Latin American tradition of heartfelt social realism in which the struggles of ordinary people assume a heroic dimension. The film is undeniably the work of an artist with the strength to gaze into the abyss and return, his humanity fortified."[7]

Critic Jamie Russell wrote, "Making his point without resorting to liberal hand-wringing, Babenco charts the climactic violence with steely detachment. Brutal, bloody, and far from brief, it's shocking enough to make us realise that this jailhouse hell really is no city of God."[8]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 68% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on seventy-six reviews.[9]



  • Havana Film Festival: Audience Award; Glauber Rocha Award; House of the Americas Award; OCIC Award; Radio Havana Award; aúl Yelín Award; Special Jury Prize; all for Hector Babenco; 2003.
  • Cinema Brazil: Cinema Brazil Grand Prize; Best Adapted Screenplay, Hector Babenco, Fernando Bonassi, and Victor Navas; Best Director, Hector Babenco; 2004.
  • Cartagena Film Festival, Colombia: Golden India Catalina; Best Film, Hector Babenco; 2004.
  • ABC Cinematography Award, Brazil: ABC Trophy Feature Film; Best Sound, Romeu Quinto, Miriam Biderman, and Reilly Steele; 2004.


  1. ^ Carandiru at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Russell, Jamie. BBC, film review, April 12, 2004.
  3. ^ "Fim da maldição" (in Portuguese). Correio Braziliense. 
  4. ^ The Re-birth of Brazilian Cinema, FIPRESCI
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Carandiru". Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. Chicago sun-Times, film review, May 28, 2004. Last accessed: December 31, 2007.
  7. ^ Holden, Stephen. The New York Times, film review, "Inside a Notorious Prison, Fires of Rage and Regret," May 14, 2004.
  8. ^ Russell, Jamie. Ibid.
  9. ^ Carandiru at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: March 12, 2010.

External links


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