Favela Manifest

By Taiani Mendes


Cinelandia, Downtown Rio de Janeiro, December 10, 2019. At the stage of Odeon cinema theater, Ilda Santiago, director of the Rio de Janeiro Intl’ Film Festival, introduces the team of Intervenção, a feature film participating of the Première Brasil Hors Concours section. She recalls that, twelve years before, Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad, José Padilha, 2007) was the opening night film of the festival. In common, the two features share the proposal of offering an inside look of the police forces of Rio de Janeiro – in the former, the BOPE (Battalion of Special Police Operations), and, in the latter, the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit). They also share ex-police officer Rodrigo Pimentel as one of the writers and a certain wish to have a popular appeal.

It is quite true that Elite Squad became a phenomenon in 2007 largely because of the way it was advertised by street vendors, who sold pirated DVDs of a leaked, unfinished version of the film like hot cakes months before the official release; the appeal of offering access to a police group surrounded by mysteries and legends; the strength of its protagonist, Capitão Nascimento (Wagner Moura), and the adaptation of the typical Brazilian violence to the molds of Hollywood action packed style. Word of mouth, however, probably would not have spread so much if the film had been read the same way, instead of dividing opinions as it did, between those who accused it of being fascist, those who found in Capitão Nascimento a Brazilian hero, and those who saw in the film a blunt social criticism from director José Padilha.

Intervenção, on the other hand, has a very clear positioning and a target audience, foreshadowed by the speeches of the producers, the director Caio Cobra and the cast before the screening, all pointing out that “we are all victims”, “we were naive to believe in the UPPs project”, “There is no such thing as right wing/left wing”, “there’s no difference between police and the habitants of the favelas”, “everything is seen above any ideology ”, and last, but not least, “let's see the movie, let's have fun!”, which ended the introduction with a golden key. Or a lead key, to best match the theme.

It is a film specifically designed to be a hit with policemen, their relatives, their admirers and a certain portion of the population that a decade ago was still scattered, but now is organized and gained body to the point of electing the current president of Brazil. To them, the State government of Rio de Janeiro is the force of evil that invented the pacifying police in an electoral ploy, delays wages, does not repair the police trucks, and does not even provide a secure, minimally equipped base for police to do their duty. Judges do not help them either, freeing detainees in custody hearings and turning their efforts into useless work and waste of time. The press just attacks; Human Rights do not look at them; BOPE (the elite squad) is only good for its own officers, who come in, do what they have to do and leave; drug dealers are cruel and merciless; and the favela inhabitants are sneaky and treacherous.

Wronged and under tremendous constant stress, police officers are also misunderstood by family members and must face threats within their own garrison, corrupt and evil officers who resist while the good die or give up fighting. The victimization effort involves records of unprepared panicked young police officers being cornered and being penalized for doing what is expected of them. Compounding the idea that there is no difference between police and inhabitants of the favelas, the protagonist (Bianca Comparato) is a police officer who lives in a favela, but how to believe such a fallacy when, in a dialogue, “pacifying”, is equated with “surviving”, that is, resisting the effect of something that, in this case, is a hostile environment that includes the favela’s inhabitants? Exhausted from being unable to do their jobs, and because when doing it they are easy targets, the police officers sometimes lose their axis because of the system, but is it also the system’s representation that says that all residents are potential enemies or allegedly ungrateful allies.

Paxton Winters’ Pacificado (Pacified, pictured) is another Première Brasil Hors Concours title that begins by contextualizing the viewer about the “pacification” (this is, in quotation marks, which appears on the opening card) that occurred due to the 2016 Olympic Games. Police officers, however, are extras who appear only as scavengers and a target for teasing, as the focus is on the family bosom of Tati (Cássia Nascimento), whose father is the former owner of the favela and is about to leave prison.

Even because of the opposite approaches, the differences between Intervenção and Pacificado are obviously numerous, the most curious perhaps being that the film directed by a foreigner shows greater intimacy with locality and people than the one signed by a Brazilian (which can be explained by fact that Paxton lived in Morro dos Prazeres, in Rio, for a few years, where she shot most of the film with the collaboration of many residents).

More interesting, however, are the similarities: the biracialism of the main nuclei; female participation bringing humanity to the UPP; the experienced man seeking to avoid confrontation in every way; the policeman refusing to take the perpetrator to the police station (the justification here is the refusal to take a thug to have “a good life” in prison, more plausible than the argument used in Intervention, after all, a report of the Defense Institute of Defense Law revealed recently that 57% of prisoners continue to be sent to the prison system by court through pre-trial detention after custody hearings); the use of amateur records and/or journalistic archives of army occupation in the communities; the dry and hopeless outcomes; and especially residents often caught in a situation of dependence and seeking whom to turn to - in Intervenção, the children being fed, supervised and assisted by the police in their studies; in Pacified, people asking all the time for the old drug dealers to mediate their conflicts and personal problems. Consternation is what generates the perception of the insistence on the representation of the needy community dweller, specifically of the Rio de Janeiro favelas, in the key of subordination, the necessity of the other’s intrusion in their dilemmas, of the excited presence in the queue to pick up stolen trucks (present in both feature films), the permanence in the shadow of the protagonists armed or directly linked to characters who have weapons. It would really be too optimistic to expect to find in two major productions with clear commercial ambitions something far removed from the commonplace, but as a festival that calls itself “Rio’s”, isn’t it able to present other fictional views of this large population that makes up the city? Where are the movies from the slums, not the favela movies?