Carandiru review

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Inevitably, Hector Babenco's vibrant prison drama will suffer comparisons to Fernando Meirelles' City Of God: it's Brazilian, it's violent, it's dynamic, it's not as good. But it does mark a return to his best for the Oscar-nommed helmer of 1985's Kiss Of The Spider Woman.

Based on the non-fiction bestseller by medic Drauzio Varella, it follows the good-natured doc (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos) as he works on an AIDS programme in Sao Paulo's titular clink. Varella meets a menagerie of drug-dealers, rapists and murderers and, through his sympathetic eyes and a flurry of character-colouring flashbacks, we somehow come to care for them.

Locating purity in squalor and squeezing irresistible joie de vivre from wretched situations, Babenco also hoses - nay, powerjets - his picture with social outrage. The Polizia's infamous handling of the 1992 prison riot is particularly galling, inducing a scorching indignation that'll only be partly cooled by archive footage of Carandiru's demolition in 2002.

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