"Bus 174 isn't a film: it is a lesson about the Brazilian social tragedy."
- José Geraldo Couto. Folha da São Paulo Newspaper.
June 12, 2000. Rio De Janeiro...
A 22-year-old street thug named Sandro de Nascimento, revolver in hand, boards Bus 174 in the city centre. So begins a four and a half hour ordeal of terror and desperation, set against the backdrop of the glaring social problems of Brazil.
To understand the processes that took Sandro to hijack a bus full of innocent people, this stunning documentary by Jose Padilha delves into the Brazil's conjoined twin cultures of poverty and street violence. We are shown a portrait of a typical street kid, a background that could be applied to any of the kids sleeping rough in Rio.
The theme of "violence begets violence" rings true throughout the entire documentary. As a child, Sandro witnessed his mother being stabbed to death by three men at her place of business. This is the cataclysmic event that caused him to take to the streets. Even in the last hours of his life on Bus 174, he still talks about it. From hitting the street at an early age, Sandro quickly became absorbed by the lifestyle; robbing, stealing, solvent abuse, cocaine, fighting all became part of his everyday routine and he was constantly in and out of detention facilities, which were really dank cellars covered with iron bars and ten young men to a cell.
Aside from the death of his mother, another major contributor to his descent was the Candelária Massacre, 1993, of which he was a survivor. Basically, the Brazilian cops came down to a church porch where all the street kids used to congregate and sleep. A fracas broke out and the cops were badly beating a kid. The street kids reacted and approached the cops, who were, by now, hugely outnumbered. The cops became frightened, stopped beating the kid, and ran to their cars, vowing revenge.
Later that night, a group of cops returned and opened fire on the group of kids, killing 8.
9 military policemen were implicated in the murders, only two received convictions for the killings witnessed by Sandro. The incident is another constantly recurring theme throughout the documentary, and serves to further highlight the incompetence of the Brazilian Police force in their handling of the Bus siege.
The siege lasted for four and a half hours in total, with the police trying to calm an incensed Sandro down while he threatened the lives of the people on the bus. Armed with a revolver and 4 bullets, and due to the buses' proximity to a local TV station, he managed to create a media frenzy observed by millions of South Americans as the tragic events unfolded. Throughout the entire siege, Sandro constantly refers to the aforementioned incidents as reasons to why the he was now in this situation.
He wanted to give poverty a voice and he wanted that voice to be heard in the only way he knew possible.
At the conclusion of the siege, Sandro allows everyone off the bus apart from one woman who remained his hostage at gunpoint (he hadn't hurt anyone in bus during the ordeal). Watched live by millions, a SWAT cop took the near-sighted initiative and tried to shoot Sandro in the head from near point blank range, missing, and shooting Sandro's hostage in the face instead.
The hostage dies. The police report says that she died from a bullet to the head from the SWAT gunshot and 4 additional gunshot wounds delivered by Sandro's gun "as she fell". Sandro de Nascimento was taken alive from the scene, despite the crowds wanting to lynch him, but mysteriously died on the way to the police station from "suffocation".
This isn't a fucking Colin Farrell action movie.
It's a statement.