Carandiru (film)

Carandiru (film)

Carandiru (2003) is a Brazilian and Argentine film directed by Hector Babenco. The picture is based on the book Estação Carandiru (English: Carandiru Station) by Dr. Drauzio Varella, a physician and AIDS specialist.

Carandiru tells some of the stories that occurred in Carandiru Penitentiary, which was the biggest prison in Latin America. The histories culminate 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 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.


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.

Later the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France on May 19, 2003.

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.


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.

Filming locations
The locations include: Carandiru Prison, São Paulo City, São Paulo, Brazil.


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 Sao Paolo, 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.

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.

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.



  • 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.



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