José Padilha’s taut, elegantly structured Bus 174 is essentially a chronicle of a death foretold. In the summer of 2000, Sandro do Nascimento hijacked a Rio de Janeiro commuter bus, holding its occupants hostage. When the city’s incompetent police forces couldn’t secure the area around the bus, a media blitzkrieg ensued and millions of Brazilians watched as the hostage situation unraveled on their televisions. Combining taking-heads interviews of people who knew Sandro over the years along with up-close-and-personal footage of the melodrama he orchestrated, Padilha sheds light on numerous social catastrophes and hypocrisies plaguing Rio de Janeiro and the incestuous, complex relationship between real life and reality television. Padilha clearly sympathizes with Sandro, repeatedly summoning the brutal death of his mother when he was a young boy throughout the documentary. With every mention of her name, the details of her death become more lucid. This almost novelistic decision further heightens the tension of his crime, and the audience’s awareness of the horrors that plagued Sandro’s young life grows in proportion with our certainty that the hostage situation can only lead to his slaughter. Padilha is critical of the miscommunication between SWAT team officers assigned to negotiate with Sandro, and though this voyeuristic work exposes the abuse of Brazil’s underprivileged at the hands of the authority figures that are supposed to protect them, it also contemplates the strange allure of reality television. The great tragedy of the Sandro’s life was that he was invisible (that he had “nothing to lose”), and Bus 174 details how he sought to validate this nothingness by casting himself in his very own action movie. What with all the references made to American films, it’s as if Padilha is daring us to mistake the events of that summer day with something concocted by Hollywood studio execs. When one of Sandro’s hostages has to scribble notes on the bus’s windows using her lipstick, it’s like a scene out of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. But, make no mistake: this is reality.
- 118 min
- José Padilha
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