Saturday, May 09, 2009

World Movie Series - 25 - Carandiru


What is our conception about a prison? The place where people spend their life for the crimes they committed; the place where immoral people live; the place where murderers, lunatics and psychotic killers roam around. The common man views the prison as something bad and gloomy. It’s like a place where the common man fears even to step in.

But, is this the reality? Are prisons bad to that extent? It’s true that people spend their lifetime inside the dark cells, for the crime they committed in that random second – when a flurry of emotional thoughts blocked the rational part of their mind – which prompted them to act wildly. As a result, he spends years and years behind the bars, repenting.

The world of a prison is unique. There are very kind people inside the prison, too.

‘Carandiru’ is based on a book written by a doctor – ‘Estação Carandiru’ (Carandiru Station) by Dr. Drauzio Varella, based on his experiences when he visited the Carandiru Penitentiary at Sau Paulo, Brazil, the biggest prison in Latin America.

The film begins with a fight. We see many people shouting from behind the bars, as two people violently collide. They are separated, and an elderly man, who seems like he is the boss, addresses the two men. He says this is a disgraceful act and it is a bad example. One of the fighters, named Dagger, says to the elderly man that the other guy tried to stab him from behind, and hence, he acted only to defend himself. The other guy, Lula, shouts in angst that it was Dagger who murdered his father, and Lula wants revenge. Dagger laughs and tells Lula it was his mother who paid him to kill his father, as he was physically abusing her. Lula cries out in anguish, and calms down after digesting the truth.

The elderly man, named ‘Black Nigger’, asks the two fighters to calm down, and he welcomes the doctor to the prison. The doctor, dealing in AIDS especially, sets up a small ‘workplace’ at the prison and starts diagnosing the inmates. While treating them, he comes to know that there are almost 7500 prisoners inside the prison, which is capable of hosting only 4000. And, most inmates have been afflicted with AIDS, due to drugs and homosexual activities prevalent inside.

The doctor converses with the inmates and they start to narrate their stories of how they came to the prison. We hear the story of the black nigger. He and his friend, ‘fatso’, hosted a jewellery theft without ‘spending a single bullet’, and even before dividing the loot, Black nigger kills the third guy who assisted them, out of sheer suspicion when he turns towards the black nigger with his hand covered with his coat. Fatso draws out his gun, and tells black nigger that they indeed planned to kill him, to divide the money with them. They dispose the body, and after two days, Black nigger is arrested for the murder, as fatso has revealed everything to the dead man’s brother.

Fatso too is arrested for the theft. The doctor asks the black nigger what happened to fatso, and he replies that while trying to escape through a tunnel they dug, fatso was stabbed by his friends since he was struck inside the tunnel.

While the doctor finishes his day and returns in the bus with his blood samples, he thinks he has to pick one of the two possibilities – either to return back to the prison the next day or to forget everything, like a bad dream. The next day, the doctor is back.

While the doctor treats the patients, we see some of the interesting members of the prison. We see Chico, a man with 18 children, waiting to be released to see all of them again – he loves makes huge balloons inside the prison. We see ‘Highness’, the drug dealer inside the prison, and we hear his romantic story of how he successfully wooed a white woman and a black woman and married them both, and how he was arrested – by accepting the charge of burning their house which was indeed done by the black woman when she burnt their house seeing him in bed with the white woman. We see Zico and Deusdete, two childhood friends, and how Deusdete killed two guys who attacked his sister and came to the prison. We hear the story of two friends in crime – two bank robbers. All the stories are shown in flashbacks.



We witness a love story between a transgender named lady ‘Di’ and a fellow inmate ‘No Way’. They both marry, at the end. We witness the black nigger complaining to the doctor he is unable to sleep, as he always has to resolve conflicts between the prisoners since he is their leader. The doctor says he has stress, and gives him medication. The doctor gradually earns the good will of the prisoners and becomes a man they can trust.

The ‘Visitors’ day’ arrives, where all the friends and relatives can visit the prison and can spend a day with the prisoners. We see the children of Chico, the two wives and the children of ‘Highness’, the black nigger’s family, Deusdete’s sister and many more. All the inmates happily spend their time with their families. We even see ‘Highness’ making fierce love with his white wife.

Zico turns mad gradually due to his addiction to drugs. He pours hot water on his childhood friend Deusdete and kills him, out of sheer lunacy. This act of violence infuriates the inmates and they kill Zico by stabbing him violently. ‘Highness’ talks to Ezequiel, a fellow inmate who owes a lot of money to Zico, to accept the crime, since he is an AIDS patient and if he accepts it, will be given a separate room and new cloths, till he dies. Ezequiel accepts the crime.

We see the doctor kick-starting a foot ball match between the inmates. While the match is underway, the doctor leaves the premises and we hear his narration – ‘When I walked in two weeks later, all I could see is the holes in the prison walls caused by bullets. It was silent everywhere, and it has been transformed in to a solitary building’.

We see what has happened. While the football match is going on, we witness a small dispute inside the prison caused by an inmate hitting the other, since he was drying his underwear near the other person’s cloths. This dispute sparks a huge war inside the prison, and everywhere, people attack everyone. The football winners enter the prison premises gleefully, and immediately on seeing the fight, most of them start to participate in the fight. We hear the doctor’s voice at the background – ‘Till then, there was humanity, and once the fight started, everyone became animals’.

The situation worsens inside the prison, and paramilitary forces are brought in. The warden announces everyone to stay calm and to end the fight. Some of the prisoners shout from their windows to the warden that they want peace, but most of the agitated inmates shout against the warden that they need more space and humanitarian treatment inside the prison.

The warden orders everyone to drop their weapons and to remain calm. We see a lot of daggers thrown out of the windows. Suddenly, a few agitated prisoners throw a flush toilet on the warden and the paramilitary forces, and there begins what is called in history as ‘Carandiru Massacre’.

The paramilitary forces enter the prison and start shooting whomever they see. All the inmates start to scramble for their life frantically and everywhere, we see blood. The military mercilessly shoot everyone, and we hear howls and gunshots all over the place.

‘Highness’, Black nigger, lady ‘Di’, ‘No way’ and many inmates hide in their cabins, and the military spares a few of them. The others are killed even after their surrender. It’s brutal killing everywhere.

The military orders the survivors to assemble outside, naked. We see all the survivors seated at the open grounds, naked, all through the day and the night. It’s a heart-breaking sight when we see fellow humans seated and treated like animals.

The blood soaked prison floor is washed, and it’s a river of blood, flowing down the steps of the prison. We see a lot of corpses. A dog starts licking the pool of blood.

The doctor visits the prison after two weeks, and it’s empty now. The walls are pierced by bullets, and the huge open space between the blocks is now deserted, with broken down rooms. The doctor sadly looks around him. The guards open the prison doors for the doctor, and when he comes out, the film ends with the guards closing the doors.

We learn from the end credits that the prison was demolished soon after. We also learn that almost 111 prisoners died in the riot, and not a single military man was wounded.

‘Carandiru’ is a Portuguese film, directed by Hector Babenco and was released in 2003. 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. The real Carandiru prison was demolished in 2002; it was transformed into a park with arts facilities. One block (#2) was left intact to be used as a museum. The film was the last thing they used the prison before demolishing 90% of it.

Carandiru is a very interesting film, which is way different from the 'prison-dramas' we usually see in english. This is how a prison will be, and it's very much realistic. The stories of the prisoners are interesting to watch. All through the film, humanity is the one thing the inmates want, and it’s the only thing they are deprived of. The emotional outbursts of the inmates during the visitors’ day touch our heart.

Carandiru was the highest grossing Brazilian movie of the year it was released (2003). The film was screened at many film festivals like Cannes film festival, 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.

Try seeing Carandiru and get a hold of the life of the inmates, for, they too are human beings like us and all they wanted, is a hint of kindness.

See the trailer here.


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