Between the wars the French anti-democrat, arch monarchist and writer Georges Bernanos wrote that: ‘The first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means.’ Foreseeing France’s defeat in 1940 Bernanos emigrated to Brazil in 1938 where he sat out World War Two managing a farm. Though written about his country of birth and not his adopted homeland, Bernanos’ contentious writings on societal solecism waft around José Bus 174 Padilha’s excellent favela policier like bad slum air.
It’s 1997 in Rio de Janeiro, months before a visit from Pope John Paul II. The rundown housing schemes of Rio de Janeiro are mired in drugs, violence and police corruption. It is time for the city’s ultra-violent BOPE, the city’s militarily trained elite police squad to step up their game. Meanwhile Captain Nascimento (Wagner Moura) is having a hard time finding a successor as unimpeachable as he is.
Padilha started this film as a documentary but was unable to get any member of the highly secretive BOPE to go on camera. So instead he fashioned this compelling thriller from the material he had, each event in the film is, he claims, based on a real event. The result is electrifying: this is powerful, mature filmmaking styled with a brutal clarity. With its fast edits, wanton naturalism, Brechtian alienation techniques and awkward structure (that brings to mind Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket), Elite Squad is by turns enthralling and heart stopping. It is the work of a clearly gifted filmmaker and one that more than echoes the dictum that ‘Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.’
Selected release from Fri 8 Aug.