Sundance Film Fest 2007–Winner of Best Documentary Jury Award at the Sundance Film Fest, “Manda Bala” (“Send a Bullet”) is a powerful film that suffers from the disparity between its excessive visual style and bombastic music and gritty and timely subject, focusing on Brazil's social-class wars; wealth, poverty and technology; and violence and corruption.
As such, the serves as a companion piece to the powerful, Oscar-nominated fiction film “City of God,” that Miramax released with great success several years ago. Both films highlight aspects of Brazilian society that seldom make it into ur glossy magazineor news reports, for that matter.
Director Jason Kohn, who's based in New York City and cites ace documentarian Errol Morris as his mentor, connects seemingly disparate elements, while conducting a harrowing examination of the tragic domino effect that has reshaped the face of the country with its creation of an entire industry built on corruption.
From its unlikely opening on a money-laundering frog farm, “Manda Bala” displays a distinctive tone. Featuring a stylish score and articulate interviews with kidnappers, kidnap victims, and the people who profit from them, as well as the paranoid people whose lives they impact, this socially relevant film looks and sounds more like a stylized fiction film than a political documentary, which was met with criticism at Sundance.
However, once you get used to the style and music, you're likely to be affected by a work that documents Brazilian reality without falling into clichs, revealing the interconnection between corruption and kidnapping, that represent two sides of the same violent crime, stressing, perhaps for the first time how the rich steal from the poor (which we have seen before)– how the poor steal the rich, a lesser chronicled but equally disturbing phenom.
“Manda Bala” explores the cycles of violence that plague Brazil's upper and lower economic classes by utilizing personalized stories that reflect Brazil's huge economic divide, vast differences that cause violence on both sides of the social spectrum.
Kohn explores the various cottage industries cropping up in response to the violence, weaving these stories into a rather compelling but flawed narrative. The film's disparate elements depict a frog farm connected to a corrupt politician and one of Brazil's most powerful men; a kidnapping victim who had her ears cut off before she was released to her parents; a wealthy plastic surgeon who pioneered the procedure of reconstructing the ears of kidnapping victims; a kidnapper who escaped Brazil's poorest regions for the wealthier Sao Paolo, where they terrorize the upper class with kidnappings, theft and murder.
Meet the protagonists. Magazines featuring the latest innovations in plastic surgery are displayed at every newsstand in Brazil and are flaunted on TV talk shows. Dr. Juarez Avelar is a celeb known as expert plastic, who 20 years ago revolutionized a procedure for reconstructing ears.
When she was 21, Patricia was kidnapped outside of a Sao Paulo bar. She had just watched the Brazilian national soccer team beat the U.S. with her friends. On Father's Day, days later, her family received her ear in the mailit's warning from the kidnappers. The ransom is paid 16 days later, but not before Patricia had lost the other ear. Seeking out Dr. Avelar, Patricia joins a small but growing group of kidnap victims to have their ears restored. Since Avelar's procedure removes cartilage from the patient's rib to excavate a new ear, Patricia will never let her future husband touch her ears; they are stiff cosmetic replacements, just to look at.
Unlike other docus, instead of focusing on the poverty that afflicts half of Brazil's population, “Manda Bala” exposes the paranoia of the wealthy minority, while largely (but not completely) avoiding patronizing clichs of Third-World chronicles. In lieu of again seeing imagery of slums, poverty, and violence, the docu aims for a new, fresh perspective on its central issuesto mostly effective but not splendid results, due to the aforementioned stylistic and structural problems.
Rich in details and personages, “Manda Bala” centers on the following subjects.
Denis is the owner of a frog farm, a new industry in Brazil that sells frogs in the country but also exports them to other parts of the world. Frog farming has become a source of corrupt business dealings, and Deniz and his farm have ties to politician Jader Barbahlo, who laundered at least $9 million using a frog farm.
Growing up in San Paolo's slums, Magrinho began stealing at the age of 9, then switched to trafficking drugs and robbing banks. Realizing that he could make more money in one kidnapping than 30 bank robberies, he organized a team that planning and carrying out kidnappings quite efficiently.
Mr. M is a wealthy entrepreneur who lives in constant fear of being robbed or being a victim of San Paolo's frequent kidnappings by lower class members that make a living by holding upper class citizen for ransom. To protect himself, Mr. M. drives in a bullet-proof car, takes lessons on how to escape attempted kidnappings, uses helicopters as transportation, and has micro-chips with GPS technology planted underneath his skin.
Barballo, one of Brazil's most powerful men, has held various political positions. He was in charge of SUDAM, a multi-billion dollar program designed to help the economy in the country's poorest regions. Through corrupt business dealings, Jader laundered billions of dollars from the fund. When incriminating evidence was brought against him, he resigned from office to avoid impeachment, but his connections allowed him to avoid jail and continue to be re-elected for office.
Dr. Juarez Avelar
Like the U.S., Brazil is a culture obsessed with physical perfection, elevating the status of experts like Dr. Avelar, a plastic surgeon, who had invented procedures for ears reconstructing.
Lamarao is a civil attorney who has been after Jader Barbalho for 7 years, and the only person to ever successfully bring charges against him.
Camilla was kidnapped, held hostage for 16 days and had both of her ears cut off and sent to her family with demands for ransom.
Mario Lucio Avelar
Avelar is Assistant Attorney General.
In a city of 20 million, with a relatively small police force, Jamil is one of 80 detectives in the anti-kidnapping division of the San Paolo Police force.
Fonteles is Brazil's Attorney General of Brazil.
Dias is the Federal Police Marshal and head of the SUDAM Investigation.
Running time: 85 MIN.
(Portuguese, English dialogue)
A Kilo Films presentation.
Produced by Jason Kohn, Jared Ian Goldman, Joey Frank.
Executive producers, Julio De Pietro, Mario Kohn.
Directed by Jason Kohn.
Camera (Widescreen), Heloisa Passos.
Editors, Andy Grieve, Doug Abel, Jenny Golden.
Sound, Coll Anderson.
Assistant director, Joey Frank.