Written and directed by Maria Ramos
First Run/Icarus, October 18 through 24, Film Forum
One of the more improbable foreign-film blockbusters of recent years, the Brazilian
City of God exposed the art-film audience's susceptibility to glitzy amoral violence and exploit- ed the penchant of first worlders to romanticize its country of origin. While a bit light on sepia-toned action sequences, the documentary Justice is a far more substantial look at the less glamorous side of Brazilian crime. The unadorned title is indicative of Ramos's approach, which is to impassively record the day-to-day functioning of the Rio de Janeiro court system. Boldly eschewing interviews, Ramos lets her camera and microphone tell the story: Dozens of prisoners are packed like livestock into a small, dirty cell; a judge laughs off a defendant's complaints of hunger; repeated allegations of police brutality meet with little reaction. With its unobtrusive visual style, Justice plays like a near-parody of documentary objectivity, subtly suggesting the malleable nature of "truth," both in the courtroom and the movie theater.