Brazilian director Maria Ramos opens a window on a criminal courtroom in Rio de Janeiro, peering at public attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and the accused as they navigate the country’s prickly legal system. The film brings to mind the good and bad of two other courtroom documentaries, Raymond Depardon’s rigorous 10th District Court and Kim Longinotto’s good-hearted Sisters in Law: Like Depardon, Ramos is almost objective to a fault, her camera gawking at her subjects from a distance that exudes both respect and trepidation, but she gets at truths that evaded her predecessors. When one of the documentary’s judges lectures a classroom, he discusses the struggle he faces when trying to determine the truth of a specific situation. There’s no doubt that there are bullshitters among the documentary’s accused fold—which includes a young man who claims not to have stolen the car he drove into a tree and a boy who insists, no joke, that he was flying a kite, not harboring guns and drugs, when cops arrested him—but there is also a sense that the nation’s police officers are doing more harm than good. Over and over again the accused report having been framed and beaten by officers, but what’s most shocking is the casual tone with which the crimes of the country’s authority figures are detailed, suggesting police brutality has become a way of life in the nation’s favelas. The judges hardly break a sweat, but from the glimpses we get of their personal lives, their compassion is evident, and it’s clear that they struggle to tell truth from fiction. Ramos’s coup, though, is how she lingers on dirty, overcrowded prisons not far removed from the seething inhumanities cataloged by Hector Babenco in films like Pixote and Carandiru, suggesting that her country’s legal system still faces considerable renovation.
- First Run/Icarus Films
- 102 min
- Maria Ramos
- Maria Ramos
- Fátima Maria Clemente, Carlos Eduardo, Maria Ignez Kato, Elma Lusitano, Geraldo Luiz Mascarenhas Prado, Suzana, Alan Wagner
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: