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Colonel Nascimento, Super-Star

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Source:  Viomundo

“Every BOPE trooper leaves headquarters with his small plastic bag. It is used to cover the head of the criminal scum, holding it closed around the base of his neck … the subject suffocates, vomits and passes out. It is somewhat distasteful, but it works.” — From the book Elite Troop (Tropa de Elite), by Luiz Eduardo Soares, André Batista and Rodrigo Pimentel

Topic: | How to interpret public approval for a feature film based on “the real-life fascist and criminal cops of Rio de Janeiro”? It is curious that the newsweekly would feature the famous Captain — in Elite Troop 2, Lt. Col. Nascimento — Nascimento as its poster child at this moment in time.

Tropa de Elite 3 is out of the question, says actor Wagner Moura.

I cannot find the Veja article  online, but did find an interview on Elite Troop 2 that points out how shallow that interpretation is and how far it falls short of explaining the film’s drawing power. (Part of it is the Brazilian film industry is extremely unproductive — in order to fufill their quota of native cultural output, pay TV operations show Elite Troop at least once a day, practically every day. )

Last Tuesday, October 1, 2013, the state judicial police of Rio (PC) handed over to the state prosecutor an investigation calling for the indictment of ten military police troopers working out of the UPP in Rocinha.

The police stand accused of having kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and hidden the corpse of the bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, whose body has yet to be found.

A detail: Among the ten indictments was that of Major Edson, ex-commander of the UPP, an officer formed by his experience at BOPE.

The film Elite Troop is impossible to forget.

Impossible to forget because, according to police, local residents relate having received electrical shocks and suffered from asphyxia with plastic sacks in the search for drug traffickers and weapons.

But was it not exactly these practices that the film presented?

What calls our attention most, however, is the fact that whie torture is a common aspect of both daily life and fiction (for at least part of the population)  the perception of many who have seen the film is positive in relation to the police conduct portrayed.

A symptom of this is the cover of Veja, in its November 10, 2013. edition. Under the image of Captain Nascimento, the tag line reads: “The first Brazilian super-hero. He is incorruptible, implacable with criminals, and gives degenerate politicians a beating.” And it promises: “What message are the millions of Brazilians who see and applaud the film daily sending?

I will not deal here with the report itself. The readers of Viomundo do not deserve such unpleasantness..

It is undeniable, however. “Millions” did attend and applaud the film. But do these millions not see that their super-heroes kidnap, torture, and murder? Did they miss the scenes of asphyxiation? Did they not see, and the end of Elite Troop 2 [sic], a police prepared to executive, with a 12-gauge shotgun, a drug trafficker who had ceased resisting? Of course they saw it. And they applauded it.

Part of the audience may not have noticed that the film represents real life. Another does notice, but does not care. And there are those who know, and applaud for this very  reason.  Veja is not the first. I doubt that it will be the last.

The most disturbing feature of this bizarre cover story is knowing that the crimes committed by BOPE troopers in the film contrast with their “incorruptible” image. The truth is that there is no greater act of corruption than kidnapping, torture and execution.

It is clear, and not exactly news, that Veja magazine has its own highly selective and sui generis  view of corruption.

My point is that by promoting the image of the police as “incorruptible,” as a “super-hero,” Veja solemnly ignores the acts of torture and murder the film presents, which recur  systematically in the real lives of millions of Brazilians who live in urban peripheries.

The problem is not so much to ignore them as to transform them into their exact opposite. In the  Veja article, torture and murder conducted by police seem less like crimes than like something that ought to bee view as natural.

In the end, it is as though Veja were saying: it is precisely because he kidnaps, tortures, and kills that Captain Nascimento is a hero.

It cannot be said that it is, however, at least not in such an open and explicit mannter. The naturalization of the crimes practiced by BOPE troopers in the film is evident in the magazine’s  silence about these issues. Ironically, its cover story is the least informative about this reality of all.

We have here a recurring practice of the type associated with the Brazilian right. Fascism is naturalized to the extent in which it remains silent, to the degree that it goes unnoticed, to the degree it becomes a natural part of the urban landscape. This is not open fascism, but a quiet, discreet form of it.  Veja magazine does not need to openly defend acts of torture by police. It does so implicitly when it sins by omission, as here.

This is because the poltiical criticisms of the Brazilian right involve turning to these silent fascists and inducing them to speak, demanding that they speak — what they really believe, what they truly presuppose, and that their silence is strategic in nature.

Let get this straight : in depicting a torturer and murderer like Nascimento, as “a national super-hero,” Veja transforms the kidnappers and murderers of Amarildo (and so many others) into super-heroes.

This just in:  Study by Folha de S. Paulo shows that number of disappearances in 18 regions where the UPP operate increased 56% between 2008 and 2011.

Veja October 6, 2010, carries an extensive — and intelligent — review of the second film in the series, in which the recently promoted Lt. Col. Nascimento finds himself at an extreme moral and existential crossroads.

These are not films whose violence is gratuitous. The second, in particular, shines a light on the militia phenomenon — the “parapolitical” question, as they say in Colombia — hence the tag line “Now the opponent is other.”

The success of a pop product can be measured, among other things, by the way in which it pierces the day to day lives of its audience. In this prequisite Elite Troop graduated with honors. Slang expressions and other atcs of mimicry emerged in the wake of a film seen by 2.5 million in the cinema and another 10 million on pirate DVDs of a rough cut leaked before the official opening, causing heated debate over the character of Capt. Nascimento, who is promoted to the rank of national hero. 

The film also shines a spotlight on José Padilha, a director who never resorts to the escapism of those who say “There is nothing to say beyond the work itself” — that the work speaks for itself.  In the film and in real life Padilha meditates on cinema, urban violence , law enforcement, and partisan politics and is one of the most  contentious voices of contemporary Brazil. 

An effort was made to minimize the leaking of the sequel to the Paraguayan Hollywood.

Elite Troop 2 had its debut, with plenty of security on hand, on Tuesday in Paulínia-SP. A summary: Nascimento, now a Lt. Col. in the military police, remains the heroic center of the piece, despite the means and methods he used in the first films. But there are other details to watch for. 

If in the first film in the series the enemy was unambiguously the drug traffic,  agressively combated by the highly trained special ops division (BOPE), the opponent in Elite Troop 2 is diffuse and, like an octopus, insertts its tentacles through the state. 

Base on current events in Rio de Janeiro, in which drug traffickers were expelled gradually from their command points on the hillside, giving way to corrupt police who eliminate the middleman and fulfill the role of an absentee State. The film is even more violent, but less shocking.

“The System” of which Nascimento, now a subsecretary of public safety for Rio de Janeiro, separated from his wife and father of a 16 year old son with home he has serious relationship problems, begins with the leader of a local militia group, is promoted by the sensationalist or negligent press, and sinks its anchor into partisan politics. … The assurance of impunity and the game of patronage politics yield audience for some, votes for others and dirty money for every one. 

But there are too many enemies to confront. The main character hesitates and describes the militia rackets in such intimate detail that the film has a documentary feel to. the film. Applauded by the audience, we are showed scenes of assault, torture, gunfire and executions, but the overarching question of the film, for its hero, becomes how to align the defense of human rights with the realization that the well-oiled machinery of war to which he once belonged also  involved police in political work, against their will. 

It is from city legislator Fraga —  an activist given to boring speeches — that Nascimento finds support for his attempt to put an end to “The System,” though not before rethinking the mess he has made of his personal life and the wrong choices that nearly made him just another coopted cop by the character-destroying meat grinder of the “bad element” in the state bureaucracy. 

After accustoming the audience with his gunpoint ideology, accomplishing his mission and screaming for doubters to leave the unit, this Nascimento is melancholy to point of impotent at times, sensing the responsibilities of a father and a public figure exposed to interests he does not control. In a certain, way, he capitulates to an ideology that he always condemned. 

What José Padilha has done is creating the saga of this character is world-class filmmaking, highlighted by the by gentler treatment that frees it from the story of a tedious, linear existence which in Nascimento’s cases is punctuated by violent schocks.

There is so much talent on display that we nearly miss the opportunity for indignant political reflection that while it serves us well in ou current lives, is emptied of significance during an overflight of the National Congress while the narrator tells us this is the point of the pyramid of what he calls “The System.”  

For a ma who has lived by the slogan [“Beatings in the armored car, beat the snot out of the bums], Nascimento has opened up a flank for a mea culpa and exchanged words for deeds. The moviegoer will be the ultimate judge, but I will tell you what I think: The ending is a major anticlimax. 

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