Documentary on Brazil
Producer/Director: Jason Kohn
Studio: City Lights Media/Warner Bros. DV600110
Video: anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9, color
Audio: English & translated English DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Commentary track by director, Additional scenes: The SUDAM Scheme, Tricking the Frogs, Singing to the Frogs, Egg of Columbus, Complete Ear Reconstruction Surgery, Bulletproof Glass (A Love Story), The Helicopter Pads of Sao Paulo
Length: 85 minutes
Errol Morris, considered by many the greatest director of documentaries today, said of Manda Bala: “One of the best and most powerful films I have seen in years.” I wouldn’t go quite that far, but this is certainly a powerful film that makes you think twice even if you could afford a Brazilian vacation. In fact its design reminded me very much of Morris’ own terrific Cheap, Fast and Out of Control. Manda Bala also won the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at Sundance.
The various sections of the film – which are cleverly apportioned out during its length and develop interesting connections between them – concern such subjects as the daily kidnappings in Sao Paulo, the plastic surgeon whose specialty is the re-creating of human ears which have been cut off by kidnappers, the helicopter business in Sao Paulo which has developed to keep the wealthy up off the dangerous streets, a frog farm which had connections with a corrupt senator, and a class in how to maneuver your bulletproofed car when attacked by criminals.
The interviews are well done – often with the Portuguese-speaker on one side of the wide screen and an English translator on the other side of the screen. There are English subtitles when required. One of the interviewees is a career hit man leading one of the kidnapping gangs. The basic situation in the country seems to be a result of the huge spread between the very wealthy and the very poor (perhaps where the U.S. is heading?). The corrupt rich steal from the poor and some of the poor will stop at nothing to steal from the rich. Watch all the extra scenes; three of them have to do with the fascinating frog farm, and you’ll hear among other things the song the Japanese co-owner of the farm sings to the frogs to apologize for how they’re all going to be eaten.
– John Sunier