Eye For Film >> Movies >> Bus 174 (2002) Film Review
Reviewed by: David Haviland
Bus 174 opens with a helicopter shot, giving a panoramic tour of Rio de Janeiro, from the beachfront mansions of the wealthy, to the lush forest on top of Vidigal hill, before swooping down into the enormous Rocinha slum. It's a literal and symbolic overview, conveying a powerful sense of Brazil's social divide. This stunning opening is just one of many memorable images in a fascinating, award-winning documentary.
The film tells two parallel stories. The first is of a bus hijack that took place in the centre of Rio in June 2000. Because of the location and poor handling by the police, cameramen were allowed unusually close to the action. As the hijack escalated into a siege, with the hijacker taking the passengers hostage at gunpoint, it quickly became a television sensation, bringing the country to a halt and generating the highest ratings of the year.
The second story is that of the hijacker himself, Sandro do Nascimento, which the filmmakers piece together through interviews with participants in the siege and Sandro's friends and family. The director, José Padilha, investigates why the hijack took place and how the example of Sandro is indicative of broader social problems. We learn that his mother was murdered in front of him when he was young, leaving him destitute and traumatised, like hundreds of thousands of children in Brazil.
Homelessness is terrifying enough, but to have any understanding of the plight of street kids, we need to factor in the total lack of prospects, or state support, the near impossibility of finding a job and routine beatings from the police. Astonishingly, Sandro had also been part of one of the last national scandals, the Candelária massacre of 1993, when police killed dozens of street kids with machine guns, following an altercation earlier in the day. Sixty two of the group survived that night - we're told that 39 of these have since been murdered.
The film argues, however, that the invisibility of these children is just as damaging as the poverty and physical danger. They form a section of Brazilian society that it is unseen and ignored by the mainstream and we feel this alienation, both in the street jugglers performing at traffic lights and the criminalised teenagers concealing their faces from the camera. In one disturbing and effective sequence, we see the horrendous hothouse conditions in one of Rio's juvenile prisons, where children are routinely held for months without trial. Padilha shoots this segment in negative sepia, making the kids look like ghosts, or monsters.
Importantly, the director is aware of the dramatic potential of this story and builds up tension as the hijack reaches its climax with a shocking resolution.
Bus 174 is a powerful and moving film, a worthy addition to the recent canon of excellent theatrical documentaries.Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2004
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