Take it from a guy who learned the hard way. I have been in Brazil for nearly a month since seeing the film, and I still can’t erase certain images.
The film focuses on the city of São Paulo (the world’s second largest city with over 20 million people) and the recent, almost daily occurrences of kidnappings. A whole industry has sprouted around this phenomenon called “sequestres” in Portuguese, from private security firms to surgeons specializing in ear reconstruction (apparently ear removal is a favorite terror tactic among kidnappers) to a host of products that have hit the market in response.
Manda Bala, which in Brazilian slang means “send a bullet,” explores the life and careers of those directly or indirectly involved with this unfortunate situation. There is Jader Barbalho, a former leader of the Brazilian Senate who embezzled as much as two billion dollars in money that was supposed to go to the nation’s poorest sectors.
We meet Mad Max type characters who ride motorcycles and pack big guns while hunting down bad guys. We hear a chilling first-person account of a victim of a kidnapping. Most amazing, the filmmakers gained access to an actual kidnapper, who described in detail the necessary steps to a properly executed “sequester.”
Multiple interviews are interwoven with impressive coherence. Slick editing and a soundtrack of Brazilian classics make the film exceedingly watchable, even as we are horrified by what we see.
Kohn and co. show in clear terms the relationship between political corruption, mass poverty and the rise in violent crimes. Their treatment of the subject is impressively hardcore, yet one wishes they might seek out a silver lining to all the bad news.
Especially if one, such as I, finds himself amidst the hubbub of urban life in Brazil. After a month in Brazil I have yet to be kidnapped, or even hear of a kidnapping. I am a victim of only my own fear, so far, and may that be all.
Manda Bala is currently in select theaters.