Sunday, August 10, 2008


EL BANO DEL PAPA was a remarkaly discreet and affecting movie about the consequences of a Papal visit to Uruguay. With gallows humour and quiet humiliations it depicted a political system that is so inherently and completely corrupt that it both criminalises the poor and those in power.

ELITE SQUAD also tells the tale of a Papal visit to Latin America. When the Pope comes to Brazil in the 1990s, the government forms an elite squad of police, called the BOPE. They are meant to be ruthless and free from corruption, going into the favelas and taking out drug-dealers and pigs alike. The difference is that EL BANO DEL PAPA is a film with nuance and insight. ELITE SQUAD plays half like a loud music video and half like its trying to copy the visual style of the infinitely better CIDADE DE DEUS. It has a confused political message, and I get the feeling that the director doesn't really know how he wants us to feel about the BOPE.

On the one hand, the spoiled, pot-smoking, upper class sociology students say that everyone's a victim of the system. Rich and poor are born into endemic corruption. They argue that the BOPE are symptomatic of the complete breakdown of society - a group of fascist thugs who intimidate the rich and shoot the poor on sight and without judicial oversight. On the other hand, the BOPE, as symbolised by the narrator, Captain Nascimento, believe that they are doing right - that in a corrupt society they are the only people capable of restoring order. Moreover, they do so at substantial cost to their personal lives and sanity.

Director Jose Padilha is on tricky ground here. The BOPE have distinct fascist over-tones, complete with the SS style use of skulls on their insignia, the black uniforms, and the deliberate cultivation of an elite, cult-like mentality. On the other hand, he wants us to sympathise with them. It could've been a brilliant movie if it had truly pulled this off, and in the story of Andre Matias it almost does. Matias starts off as an idealistic law student who is shocked by police corruption and wants to do right. But by a series of small indistinguishable steps, Matias and his best friend Neto, slide into corruption and into the elite squad.

Sadly, this slide into fascist thuggery isn't as compelling as it should be because the frenetic shooting style and multi-linear narrative work against us seeing anything with clarity. Second, because, in the English-language release, the movie has been re-cut to put the focus on Nascimento rather than on Neto and Matias, using a deeply patronising voice-over. The voice-over, which continuously told me the obvious, had the effect of making me switch of my brain and disengage from the viewing experience.

ELITE SQUAD played Berlin 2008. It was released in Brazil in 2007 and in Argentina, Colombia, Turkey, the Netherlands, Mexico, Italy, Singapore, Portugal, Venezuela and Spain earlier in 2008. It is currently on release in Israel and the UK and is released next week in Hong Kong. It is released on September 4th in France and Greece and on September 19th in the USA.


  1. this article is rubbish , TDE is not a romantic story , it's just how it is . Dramatic , brutal and ugly ...

    nascimento is not a bad guy , and he's absolutely not a good guy either .... what i felt about this movie is a weird feeling, as if i could not judge anybody ...
    neto and matias are idealists , neto dies cause he does not think ... matias on his hand is carried away by his feelings and his anger and is getting ineluctably nascimentized. no good guy here ...

    if you did not like it , you may hate Battle for HADITHA ... but it's worth the experience .... it's weird how you cannot say whether or not you liked some movies ... battle for haditha is one of them.

  2. i also agree with Djamel-Eddin