Tropa de Elite

Not many people work on the day after Thanksgiving. The Metro was mostly empty and the streets were eerily silent.  It was pleasant, actually. This morning was unseasonably warm and balmy. The overcast weather added to the feeling of relative solitude. It cleared up a bit by evening and got a lot cooler. This is the time of transition to the colder weather. It will be warm again, but less and less.

I still went to Portuguese class today, wouldn’t miss it. We aren’t supposed to take any leave during language training, except for optional days designated. The day after Thanksgiving is such a day as are days around Christmas and New Year. But these are the best times to go to work, since few people are on the roads and Metro and in language class there is a good chance to get an instructor to yourself. I had my own class in the morning; my colleague came in the afternoon.

As usual, I watched the Brazilian news before class. Almost all of it was about fighting crime in Rio. They are waging what looks like a war against drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro.  The military police and actual military units, such as armored vehicles and helicopters are involved in cleaning the bad guys out of the favelas near the city and then setting up checkpoints to structures to keep them out.  Many of the drug kingpins are already in jail, but they were evidently still running operations from inside, so they have been relocated to far away locations usually undisclosed, although some have gone out to Porto Velho, which is the capital of the state of Rondonia. You really cannot get too much farther away from anyplace than Rondonia.    

The action is broadly popular with the population.  The inhabitants of the favelas have long been terrorized by the criminals and lately they have been expanding their operations to attack traffic on roads, as a kind of retaliation for increased police presence in the favelas.  It is interesting ho different this is in this time and place than it would be in others.  Think about how this might have been in the 1960s, when the Soviets and their Cuba surrogates were spreading tyranny and murderers like Che Guevara were fomenting trouble.  (I will never understand how that guy, a sadistically mass murderer and an incompetent one at that, can still be acceptable on posters and t-shirts.) The drug traffickers would have characterized themselves, and been characterized,  by many in the press as revolutionaries.  Or consider the same sorts of events in a Middle  Eastern country, one ravaged by violent extremism.  It is a lot better if the crooks do not have some kind of unifying ideology to turn them from local menaces to worldwide terrors.

This evening Chrissy & I watched “Tropa de Elite,” a Brazilian film about a special police unit (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE)) that deals with crime in the favelas.  The film was wildly popular when it came out in Brazil in 2007.  Now they have made a “Tropa de Elite II,” which has broken all records to become the most popular Brazilian film of all time, beating out perennial favorite “Dona Flor & Her Two Husbands,” featuring Sonia Braga, probably the most famous Brazilian actress in the U.S.

If you click on the “Tropa de Elite II” link above and watch the trailer and then watch the actual news stories from yesterday at this link, you will see the similarities.

“Tropa de Elite II” is not yet available on video. The first one is okay. It is in the spirit of the Dirty Harry movies, maybe mixed with something like “the Shield” or “the Wire.”  Gritty. When people feel affected by crime and corrupt cops, they like to watch films where the bad guys are hunted down and maybe killed.  When the danger passes, or among those who were always more or less secure, these things are less in style and people sometimes feel a little guilty about them.

There is an interesting sub-plot, almost like an American stereotype of the spoiled rich kids v the hard working guy who came up from poverty. One of the good cops is the poor kid who wants to be a lawyer and goes to school with a bunch of privileged rich kids. They all say the cops are bad and are just tools of ruling elite to oppress the poor.  Despite their evident wealth and privilege, they consider themselves part of “the people.” When the character – Mathias – speaks up in class to question the prevailing wisdom, admitting that many police are corrupt but that the drug dealers are also bad, the other students shun him. 

The film was criticized in some circles for glorifying violence and rough measures. The interrogation techniques & other methods.  

The BOPE in the film has a general Spartan or maybe a Nietzsche feel.  Very violent and not for the faint of heart, but the movie is worth watching.

The photos – Up top shows Thomas St on the way to FSI.  The construction workers are not there today and there was little traffic anywhere.  Next is the cloudy sky at FSI. Under that are construction cranes at sundown from Ballston Gold’s Gym.  The movie poster below is from “Tropa de Elite.”