Manda Bala (2007)

 “Organized crime has entered the very centre of power.”

“Tell me a place in the world where politicians are not sons of bitches” observes Jamil, a jaded policeman from Sao Paolo’s anti-kidnapping division in the excellent documentary Manda Bala. Admitting that there are not enough police to protect the wealthy elite in San Paolo, Jamil’s job is to solve kidnappings; he’s just one part of the chain of corruption and crime in a place where the phenomenally rich and extremely poor rub shoulders. But here in Sao Paulo, with the “world’s largest private fleet of helicopters,” the wealthy often take to the skies, negotiating the city through a series of roof top helicopter landing pads. This is one way–perhaps the only way–in Sao Paolo to avoid confrontations with the poor.

manda balaManda Bala (aka Send a Bullet) examines the nature of corruption and class division through a handful of Sao Paulo residents. There’s an affluent plastic surgeon who specializes in reconstructing ears removed by kidnappers, and there’s a man who owns and operates a frog farm. A kidnapping victim describes her ordeal at the hands of brutal kidnappers, and although she remains remarkably calm when recalling how her ear was carved off of her head, there’s the sense that the veneer of tranquility is brittle and ready to shatter. Also included in the film is an interview with a balaclava-clad kidnapper who very succinctly describes why and how he developed a career from kidnapping and maiming the wealthy. Remorse is beside the point; to the kidnapper it’s a matter of survival. Establishing networks of accomplices, the kidnapper argues that he returns a chunk of the loot to his own impoverished neighbourhood–a ghetto in Sao Paolo. Obviously after a number of these lucrative crimes, the kidnapper could afford his own sprawling estate in the country, but instead he chooses to remain with his own people.

Other segments include a man who, for the camera, is known as Mr. M. He describes the need for bulletproof cars and takes a course titled: “How to Drive Your Bullet-Proof Car and Avoid Getting Kidnapped.” With grainy footage of various brutal kidnapping tapes interspersed with the interviews of Sao Paolo residents, we begin to get the idea that Sao Paolo is not for the faint of heart. But what is the thread that binds all these Brazilians together? The film makes it perfectly clear that crime and corruption begins at the top, and referring to the corrupt political system, one man argues the choices are simple: “you either steal with a pen or a gun.”

In a country in which politicians are free from civil courts, elected officials run amok with so called public funds, lining their own fat foreign bank accounts while laundering money through various mythical public projects. The film follows the career of a politician who “became a gangster not a governor.” Jader Barbalho–a student leader under Brazil’s military dictatorship went to law school and rose through positions in the government. As a senator, it’s charged that his government programmes looted the country–ensuring, of course that the rich (Jarbalho in this case) stay richer and the poor stay…well, poorer. This section of the film establishes that the food chain of crime and corruption underlying Brazilian society is responsible for the horrendous conditions in Sao Paolo. One interviewee who attempted to force Barbalho to answer for his crimes asks: “do judges in Brazil see people in the same way or do they have difficulties in sending to jail people of their own class?” And this is, of course to anarchists, a rhetorical question.

Another interviewee seems at a loss to explain exactly why Barbalho remains untouchable for his crimes: “I am embarrassed that we have politicians that have stolen so much public money to make themselves rich while people remain in extreme poverty and yet they keep electing them.” Perhaps the answer to that one is that some votes are bought and paid for.

From director Jason Kohn, this fascinating film’s tagline is “When the rich steal from the poor…the poor steal the rich.”

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Filed under Brazil, Documentary, Political/social films

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