Bus 174

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 28 07:45:39 MST 2003

On June 12, 2000 a drugged-out, pistol-brandishing 22 year-old
Afro-Brazilian named Sandro de Nascimiento hijacked a bus in Rio de
Janeiro and threatened the passengers with death unless a series of
incoherent demands were met. As SWAT teams laid siege to the bus, TV
crews transmitted images of the ghastly scene to viewers throughout the
country who had a predictable reaction: a madman was committing a mad act.

As young documentary film-maker Jose Padilha told the audience in a Q&A
at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall following the showing of "Bus 174"
as part of the annual New Director/New Films series, he was not
satisfied with this narrative and began his own investigation.

Combining stock footage of the hijacking with background interviews with
Sandro's family and the street kids he eventually hooked up with,
Padilha not only provides a coherent social analysis but a gripping
character study of the sort that has novelistic depth.

The determining event that formed Sandro's character was the stabbing
murder of his single mom, a shopkeeper, when he was 10 years old. So
traumatized was he by the event that he ran off to join Rio's countless
homeless children. When he was 14 years old, he survived a police
massacre of a large group of homeless children in the Candelaria
district of Rio. With his gun pointed at the head of one of the captive
women on the bus, he yelled out at the window, "I was at Candelaria. I
know what it means to die. This is no action movie. I will begin killing
at 6PM." On July 24, 1993, the NY Times reported:

"Hooded members of an 'extermination group' killed seven homeless boys
and wounded two others as they slept before dawn today in the shadows of
the city's symbols of luxury and power.

"Men cruising Rio's banking district in a taxi and in a private car, who
survivors later said were police officers, stopped in front of
Candelaria Church and sprayed a group of 45 sleeping boys and girls with
pistol fire. Four boys died instantly. A fifth was shot and killed as he
ran from the front of the church, a gold-encrusted landmark that is a
regular setting for lavish society weddings.

"Driving through deserted streets, the men shot to death two more boys
who were sleeping in gardens at the Museum of Modern Art, on Rio's
showcase Seaside Avenue."

Since homeless children, who are linked with petty crime, begging and
other "anti-social" acts, powerful businessmen often hire hit squads to
clean them out of neighborhoods like Candelaria. The social dimensions
of this ongoing conflict amount to a one-sided civil war. Considering
that about half of Brazil's 60 million children survive on less than $1
a day and three-quarters do not finish primary school, it is not
surprising that the country is swamped by feral youth. Veja, Brazil's
version of Time Magazine wrote at the time, "It is almost unbelievable
that a contingent of children equal to the entire population of Colombia
or Argentina silently live on this miserable slice of the national wealth."

In an interview with an older woman who became Sandro's surrogate mother
at one point, we discover that he longed to be famous one day, despite
the fact that he had never worked a day in his life nor had he
successfully overcome various addictions, from sniffing glue to cocaine.
His fame did eventually come at the expense of his own life and one of
his female captives, who are revealed as uncommonly sensitive and
sympathetic to this pour soul who had taken them captive and threatened
them at gunpoint.

Sandro's performance on TV camera seems eerily evocative of films like
"Dog Day Afternoon", in which a hostage taker finally becomes visible in
the public eye. In the final analysis, this is really Padilha's point.
It took a desperate act for one of Brazil's invisible people to become
known. If this powerfully dramatic film ever finds its way into
commercial distribution, it must be seen. Belonging to a long tradition
of films such as "Los Olvidados", "Pixote", "City of God", it reaffirms
our bonds with those who are most powerless.


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