THIS WEEK'S OPENING of the prison drama Carandiru (see review, p. 85) puts one in mind of the Oscar-nominated City of God (on disc June 8), since the two films provide before-and-after bookends to criminal life in Brazil's notorious favelas. Easily the best gangster movie of 2003, City charts the rise and fall of Rio de Janeiro's young, violent coke dealers from the late '60s through the early '80s. It's based on a factually inspired 1997 novel by Paulo Lins, who appears in this DVD's sole extra, an hour-long documentary co-created by City's American co-director, Katia Lund.
This featurette, "News From a Personal War," depicts late-'90s Rio as a combat zone. Cops, crooks, street kids, and the impoverished residents of the vertiginously steep favelas overlooking the city's prosperous, insular core are interviewed evenhandedly. The lawmen, particularly Rio's coolly pragmatic police chief ("This is an unfair society"), see themselves in an endless battle to keep society's haves and have-nots apart. Then, as author Lins observes, the '80s coke explosion spawned TV cameras and sensational news footage (some of which is reprised here): "People have always died in the favela, but the press didn't notice."
The crooks interviewed—one of whom first killed at age 11 by setting an informant on fire—can't think beyond jeans and sneakers. The police chief hardly discourages allegations of sanctioned killing by his department. Rio's most famous criminals die young, gaining immortality only via media accounts, not from their self-styled Robin Hood rhetoric. The documentary ends with a depressing montage of tombstone inscriptions that echoes the bloodbath finale of Carandiru. Prison or death—it's all the same, and that mortal coda also gives City, despite its tropical flash and sizzle, the weight of something grand and almost mythic.
Considerably LESS grand, the original 1975 The Stepford Wives reached DVD June 14, just in time for comparison with its needless remake. Also out, The Station Agent includes a shared commentary with its amiable cast (Patricia Clarkson, Peter Dinklage, and Bobby Cannavale) and director. For June 22, Bad Santa is being put to disc in a naughtier, unrated version as Bad-der Santa (get it?). The cheesy sci-fi send-up The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra will probably find its intended market among couch-bound stoners who missed it in theaters. Best bet: Criterion's new release of Godard's 1961 A Woman Is a Woman.