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Jurgen Fauth & Marcy Dermansky

Berlinale Awards Golden Bear to Jackbooted Elite Squad

By February 16, 2008

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Festival buddies Filmbrain, D-Kaz, and I were watching the New German Film documentary Gegenschuss on Alexanderplatz while the winners of the 58th Berlinale were announced at the Palast. Still buzzing on Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders, we were nothing less than horrified to find out that the 2008 Golden Bear had gone to a movie all three of us reviled: Jose Padilha's Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite), a poorly told thriller from the favelas of Rio that asks the audience to sympathize with fascist thugs who torture suspects, beat up protesters, and shotgun people in the face. From where I'm sitting over a Hefeweizen, the Berlinale's top award couldn't have gone to a worse film.

Perhaps to counteract the winner's noxious politics, the jury -- led by Costa-Gavras and including Diane Kruger, Walter Murch, and Shu Qi -- awarded its Grand Prix to Errol Morris' Abu Ghraib documentary Standard Operating Procedure. Personal favorite There Will Be Blood took two Silver Bears, for director Paul Thomas Anderson and Outstanding Aritstic Contribution (Music) for the score by Jonny Greenwood. Best Actor went to Reza Najie in Maji Majidi's Avaze Gonjeshk-ha and Best Actress to Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. The decidedly underwhelming In Love We Trust was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay.The official Berlinale site has a complete list of awards. More links and commentary from GreenCine Daily's David Hudson. Stay tuned for my festival wrap-up. [posted by Jurgen]

Comments

February 16, 2008 at 7:55 pm
(1) Martin says:

You idiots have no taste for movies whatsover.

February 16, 2008 at 8:57 pm
(2) Christine says:

You have no idea what does the word “fascist” mean. Go look up the dictionary before start to write about such a great movie. You suck.

February 17, 2008 at 8:29 am
(3) Patrick says:

I had almost the same experience as you. I got out of a cinema in Berlin yesterday and learned about the Berlinale jury’s decision. I still can’t believe it.
What a disgusting insensitive MTV like intellectual piece of crap that shows people tortured in most horrible ways while there is some really “cool” music running in the background. A film that can’t live without its directors comments and explanations for its lack of a clear standpoint. A director that doesn’t have any sensibility for acting, dialogue and for what the images and sounds he puts on the screen are actually saying. A director that doesn’t care about political correctness and therefore reduces NGOs, inhabitants of Rio’s Favelas and rich students to mere extras without any history or story of their own while giving way to the lead characters constant voice over.
I am glad I am not the only one who feels bad about this decision. Already at the screening at the Berlinale I was shocked to see how many people applauded. But this golden bear is too much.

February 17, 2008 at 9:35 am
(4) Fabricio says:

Dear all,

The movie does survive without the directors comments, it is not poorly made and the label of fascist is in itself empty. How would you compare this movie with Taxi Driver or A Clockwork Orange? I for one, think there are interesting similarities. To ignore the outstanding acting of Wagner Moura is something that not even the hardest critics in Brazil have come close to. That been said, who says that the director cares or doesnt cares about NGOs, torture and the like? How is it that amovie shot under menaces and protests of various governmental bodies (the police was just the most vocal?)The movie does not have a clear standpoint. In that you are right. It has some imbalances in the portrayal of ‘do-gooders’. That is also right. It glorifies, to a certain extent (the same to which Taxi Drive glorifies Travis Bickle violent rampage), violence and repression over corrupt and innefective rule of law. That does not make the movie fascist. This movies has an interesting way to reveal more about the viewer than about the directors ideology. People with tendencies to find torture and violence desirable in a country in which violence levels overcome the number of deaths in wars. In Brazil this was formed by the poor who can not take it anymore drug traficking chaos and rich people who do not stand to have another luxurious car stollen. It has pointed the finger towads NGOs and the university leftist standpoint. Perhaps it did showed them in a reductionist and twisted manner. I guess even the director would agree to that (although the movie, worth reminding, narrated by the main character). Of course NGOs are doing an important job and that Foucault has some very relevant thoughts and theories. That does not make the criticism to drug usage any less reprehensible through a moral prisma.The movie points out to something that might do all the difference. Finally dealing with drug trafficking. It is definitely right that whoever consumes marihuana or cocaine, whether that is on the slums of Brazil or the nightclubs of London, is becoming a part in a industry that has a heavy toll of lives on its back (many times children). For people who advocate fair-trade, it is definitely something to think about. Anyway, the disproportional portrayals in the movies are indeed problematic. Nevertheless, not to a point where you could say it is a fascist advocate. It is complex movie that offers no clear standpoint, no answer. I think this makes it richer as a piece of art, not the opposite. It was a much more honest portrayal of the crossroads facing Brazilian society than all the previous movies on the social question in Brazil. If anything, it was the first time in Brazilian history that torture was discussed openly and by the people themselves and not only a tiny university minority. What is not acceptable, nonetheless, is to see reviews that bother not to explain why the movies was so bad and fascist (a quite bold ascertion to be made without a reasoning). Hope that the eurocentric avan-guardist arguments stop there. Cinema is not the priviledge the initiated and the fact that one is familiar with Fassbinder or Stroheim or whatever does not in itself make your opinion about a movie valid without reasoning. I respect the criticisms made to the movie (I actually agree with many), but I really deplore the sort of review that has been going out. Hope you either come up with the anlysis that this movie diserves or refrain from using catcphrases without a context. Cheers Fabricio

February 17, 2008 at 11:53 am
(5) Antonio says:

I totally agree with Patrick’s comments – I’m baffled that Berlin should have given the top award to Elite Squad, a cheap B-movie disguised as social commentary, a film that panders to the lowest instincts of a disaffected audience. I wonder if a film like that had been made in Germany, would it have even been allowed to screen at the Berlinale? I hope Miramax loses lots of money in its push to promote this ugly thing.

February 17, 2008 at 3:56 pm
(6) Rafael says:

It looks like the technical problems in the Berlin showing of “Elite Squad” really confused the perception of many reviewers.
Just to make it clear. The narration and focus of the movie are not supposed to be neutral!! Of course they aren’t. The story is a 1st person description of the events made by the brutal cop himself. The narration sounds very credible as thoughts that came from the mind of a cop in that situation.
This adds a layer of complexity to the movie, because the intelligent viewer, in addition to interpreting their action, has to interpret their thoughts (and if really intelligent feel disgusted by them).

To call the film fascist because of the tone of the narration is completely missing the point.

As in movies such as “fighter”, one very effective way to get insight about a situation is to let the participants speak from themselves, and that’s what the movie does.

February 17, 2008 at 4:50 pm
(7) lucas says:

this movie make us see de police side, if the police are facist we have a problem,but say that the movie are facist…well than you are losing yout mind.

padilha was etencive criticaded in brazil a fell years ago wen he make “onibus 174″ they say he was a comunist bacause he let us see the criminal side os history and now the same critics say that he was a facist…

February 17, 2008 at 7:17 pm
(8) Filmbrain says:

Rafael — Had the film been entirely from Nascimento’s perspective, then I would agree with your argument. However, it’s told from multiple perspectives, though none seem to challenge or offer an alternative to the viewpoint of BOPE. For example, to watch this film you’d think that only the middle class do drugs, and all NGOs are frauds. But then again, one of the film’s screenwriters is an ex´-BOPE officer who has claimed the film as being pro-BOPE, so what else can we expect?

February 17, 2008 at 8:18 pm
(9) iceghost says:

The film is not facist…the reality is!

First world watcher must understand that what is shown in the screen is happening every day…not only Rio, but Sao Paulo, Recife, Salvador and Amazon…

That is crude and cruel like real life.

Remember that.

February 18, 2008 at 10:47 am
(10) Rafael says:

Filmbrain –

There’s a recent study about the drug usage in Brazil by a very renowned institution (FGV foundation) that reports these numbers:
- 85% of drug users are white
- 62% are from the A economical class (the top class).
- 86% have between 10 and 29 years
- 88% are catholic.
- in schools, drug incidence is three times higher than in the rest of society.

So two points about this:
1st) I still think that one (and mine) interpretation for the movie is that all the narrative focus (including the choices of events to portrait) is based on a “fictional” documentary with Capitain Nascimento (based on the reports by the former BOPE soldier). Thus, those views about NGOs and middle class are the police’s.

2nd) even if it was the Director’s choice of being political and criticizing the middle and upper classes, I think that he has a point.

February 18, 2008 at 11:55 am
(11) Filmbrain says:

Rafael — Interesting statistics, thanks.

That critics in Variety, the New York Times and elsewhere feel the film is borderline fascist perhaps says something about how the film plays to audiences not well-versed in the socio-political problems in Brazil. However, we can only interpret what we see. I still believe the film is pro-BOPE, and on that fact alone I have a problem with it.

February 18, 2008 at 1:15 pm
(12) Rafael says:

Then I leave some other interesting facts and a question:

1)
The reaction from the police, both BOPE and regular police was negative towards the movie from the beginning. The police actually tried to impede the movie to be screened. After being unsuccessful, they officialy prosecuted the director asking him to reveal the names of the cops he had interviewed and that had revealed the torture methods practiced by the corporation.
The Rio de Janeiro Governor had to intervene in favor of the director.

2)
The previous movie of the director, “Bus 174″ caused opposite reactions to some viewers. He was deemed as ultra-leftist for showing in his documentary the social economic background and the full story of the criminal protagonist of the story. The rightists claimed that the director was trying to humanize somebody who was just guilty.

Question:
Following the logic, then what does redeem “Clockwork Orange” of being fascist as well? It is also a 1st person narration that shows the actions and the thoughts of a character with severe moral flaws.

February 18, 2008 at 3:18 pm
(13) Antonio says:

The Elite Squad is a great film that represents a punch in the face of a wrotten society. I am sorry that some people just couldn´t understand the film´s message.

February 19, 2008 at 7:54 am
(14) worldfilm says:

Here’s an article about Jose Padilha blasting back at the critics who criticized this film.

February 20, 2008 at 8:48 am
(15) Victor says:

I see your point, but I desagree. One advice: rewatch the movie, maybe you’ll get smt you haven’t got in the first time.
The situation in Rio is very similar from this movie, in fact there’s a critic about the corrupted police and the govermment which doesn’t offer any support to it. That’s the point of the director.

February 22, 2008 at 11:58 am
(16) Luiz says:

Sometimes it’s hard for an European understand Elite Squad. Live in Rio for few months to understand the movie. Its not facist, it’s real.

August 13, 2008 at 7:37 pm
(17) Ali says:

The movie is reality – there are honest cops, the unknown braves in the shadows, who have to do what has to be done to combat a cruel world of crime. The criminal engine is complex and we’re all a bit to blame for it. Those who live in the more economically privileged societies, albeit protetced by their own special killing machines known as the military, might not be able to relate to it. But ask someone from a poor deprived violent crime infested country. And even if one doesn’t agree with the ethics of the protagonist, it’s nevertheless a well told story.

October 22, 2008 at 8:10 pm
(18) Sergio Lopez says:

Elite Squad is a great film, and if you say it isn’t is because you don’t know sh*t about cinema. Critics are the worst crap on the face of the earth.

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