and Broken Wings
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Aired 6/22 and
is it that Brazilian directors seem to have such a sure hand
when making movies about prisons and the underclass that populates
Carandiru is Hector Babenco's latest film. The opening shot
reminds me of another fine, but little known Brazilian film
called Bus 174. Both movies open with God's eye views of great
cities - Rio in the case of Bus 174, and Sao Paulo in the case
In both films the camera looms and zooms over the cities, gradually
picking out the one place in the teeming landscape that becomes
the locus of the story. It's hardly an original technique, but
in the hands of these directors it fully focuses our attention
and sets us up for the drama to come.
And in the case of Carandiru, what an amazing and riveting drama
it is. Based on a book by a famous Brazilian physician, Carandiru
is the story of the men who occupy a cellblock of the same name
in Sao Paulo's infamous House Of Detention, which, at one time,
was the largest prison in Latin America.
Through the eyes and ears of the prison doctor, a man who volunteers
his service, Carandiru manages to compellingly tell the stories
of well over a dozen inmates. There's not a faulty piece of
acting in the film. In lesser hands these stories would be caricatures,
but Babenco and his superlative cast breathe real life into
It took three years to make Carandiru. Much of the film was
shot on location, in the actual cell block. The time, resources,
patience, and talent that it took to complete this film add
up, finally, to greatness. Carandiru is a marvel - as colorful
and surprising as it is humane. Babenco just may be a genius.
Don't miss it.
Already playing at the Nickelodeon is a small Israeli film called
Broken Wings. Written and directed by Nir Bergman, Broken Wings
is also about a prison, of sorts. But in this case the lock
down is emotional. The bars are built of grief and guilt. The
inmates are members of a family in mourning for the death of
Bergman heightens our interest with the time-honored technique
of withholding key pieces of information. Most of the film takes
place in Haifa, over a period of two days. It opens and closes
with a bitter sweet ballad sung by the eldest daughter of the
family, 17 year old Maya.
She's torn by conflicting loyalties. She has a new, surrogate
family - a rock band, and her actual family - a grieving mother
and siblings. As the eldest child, much of the parenting now
falls on her shoulders. She's a cauldron of love and resentment.
Much of the film rests on how she resolves her dilemma.
The film opens nine months after the death of the father. The
mother, still suffering from depression, has taken a job as
a midwife. The symbolism may sound a bit heavy, but Bergman
makes it work, partly because his cast is terrific.
The oldest boy in the family attempts to mask his grief with
a pop existentialism. To anyone who will listen, he explains
that humans are specks of dust afloat in an uncaring universe.
The depth of his philosophy will soon be tested, in one of the
best scenes of the film. Perhaps the most interesting character
in the family is the youngest boy. His coping strategy consists
of jumping from ever higher perches and filming the act with
his strategically placed video camera. Perhaps this boy is Bergman's
alter ego. For Bergman is taking chances, too.
He's betting that a film about grief and guilt, subjects we
humans are familiar with, but not fond of, will work at the
box office. I don't know if it's a wager he'll win, but he's
made a fine film. And I recommend it to you. But see Broken
Wings soon, because, as we all know, quality is no guarantee
at America's box office.
For KUSP's Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.