Sao Paulo’s infamous House of Detention, the subject of “Prisoner of the Iron Bars (Self-Portraits)” is the same as the one that figures in Hector Babenco’s “Carandiru.”. Possibly even more hard-hitting than the fiction film, this is truly a vision of hell whose morbid fascination turns to indignation as the film proceeds. Director Paulo Sacramento, who produced and edited the notable “Mango Yellow” last year, strives to capture the inmates’ p.o.v., often letting them film scenes themselves. Doc has won numerous awards, including the special jury prize at the Rio film festival, and should be much in demand for other fests and even specialized venues.
Rather extraordinarily, given that the two productions had nothing to do with each other, Sacramento hits many of the same bases covered by Babenco. There is the real-life doctor in the infirmary, the incarcerated preacher, the joys of visiting day, gay couples, murdered corpses in the morgue, moonshine, drugs, and the terrible punishment cells. The way prisoners were treated as numbers (Carandiru has now been demolished) is underlined along with their desperate hope to return to the world alive.