Shortly after “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” director Hector Babenco was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and was forced to direct from a wheelchair by the time he made “Fields Of The Lord.” Babenco’s oncologist was Drauzio Varella, a dedicated doctor who also happened to be a voluntary AIDS prevention worker at Sao Paulo’s notorious Carandiru prison facility. Doctor Varella prescribed a life saving bone-marrow transplant for Babenco, and the two men frequently talked about the many stories of the prisoners at Carandiru before Varella’s book “Estacao Carandiru” became a literary phenomenon in Brazil selling over 400,000 copies. Although Babenco initially disregarded making the book into a movie because he felt he had already covered similar ground in previous films, he began to associate with the prisoners’ desire to survive to that of his own struggle with cancer. The result is a moving series of vignettes about the lives of prisoners in the infamous Sao Paulo penitentiary where a brutal police massacre left 111 people dead in 1992. Filmed on location in the actual prison before it was demolished, Babenco’s “Carandiru” is a soulful movie that eschews glamour and formula to present a thoughtful meditation on an endemic prison reality that reaches far beyond the confines of the richest city in South America. It is not to be missed.
Rated R. 145 mins. (A-) (Four Stars)
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