September 28, 2007

REVIEW: Manda Bala (B+)

Background: In the minds of most who have never been there (including me), Brazil is the exotic land of the Amazon, Carnaval, Ipanema, Copacabana, and, of course, futbol. At least that was the case before Cidade de Deus, Carandiru, and the underrated Uma Onda No Ar brought favelas and gangs to light, exposing the seedy underbelly of Brazil's glamour. Of course this made the country that much more fascinating, and the trend has continued, now with Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), a documentary by first time filmmaker Jason Kohn. Mentored by Errol Morris, Kohn went to Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and rural Amazonia to film his subjects, taking dangerous risks to get the interviews he desired.

Synopsis: In the first five minutes of Manda Bala, we see footage of ransom videos made by kidnappers in Sao Paulo, meet a frog farmer who is linked to a corrupt politician, and see mannequins being used to test bulletproof glass. For the next hour, each of those pieces is further explored through interviews with kidnapping victims, police, lawyers, government officals, kidnappers, and businessmen. Everyone has their own story about how they've been the victim of a crime or corrupt system, and depending on your level of attention, you may be able to understand the parallels sooner than most. By the end of the film, any bit of the exciting glamour you may have had about Brazil is long gone.

I Loved:
+ The cinematography - beautiful, mesmerizing aerial shots of Brazil.
+ The soundtrack featuring all kinds of Brazilian music, mostly in Portuguese and usually appropriate for the scene.
+ The facial expressions of the cop in Sao Paulo as he waited for the interpreter to translate.

I Liked:
+ How the parallels between criminal "classes" finally came together in the end.

I Disliked:
- The ransom videos - they added to the kidnapping plotline, but they were overused and could have been substituted with more interviews of kidnappers or their victims.
- The plastic surgery! Is this medical school, The Learning Channel, or a film about corruption and crime in Brazil? The surgery wasn't gross, it was just totally unnecessary.
- Occasionally, the music - just because you have a lot of songs you'd love to use in a film, it doesn't mean you can have them playing in the background at all times.

I Hated:
- The annoying, unpredictable mixed use of subtitles, English speakers, interpreters, music sung in Portuguese, anonymous voice-overs, Portuguese speakers, questions asked in English, subtitles for English speakers, music sung in English, questions asked in Portuguese, narration, and maybe most confusingly, Portuguese newspapers where the headlines morph into English while the rest of the print remains in Portuguese.

Writing - N/A
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 27/30= 87% = B+

Last Word: Having always wanted to visit Brazil, it was fascinating for me to learn more about Sao Paulo, which is often overlooked because of Rio. The country has such unique cultures, ethnicities, foods, dances, geography, and, as we learn in Manda Bala, corruption and crime. Jason Kohn takes a while to really solidify his point, but when it comes together its quite impressive.
Having been so heavily influenced by Errol Morris, I would be interested to see what he does next, . If you do see Manda Bala, and I recommend that you do if you have any interest in Brazil, make sure you watch the hypnotizing credits all the way through to the end.

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