Dir. Bruno Barreto, Brazil, 2007, 110 minutes.
Bruno Barreto’s dramatization of the June 2000 bus highjacking in Rio de Janeiro, which was the subject of Jose Padilha’s probing 2002 documentary Bus 174, rises above standard docu-drama fare. The melodrama about a street thug lost to family and society rounds out familiar contours with solid acting, mostly from young non-professionals.
Brazilian urban violence won’t be new to any audience familiar with the City of God or Elite Squad (Jose Padilha’s feature debut about street crime from the police perspective). Yet Last Stop 174 brings no recognizable stars to its cast, only Barreto’s directorial reputation in his 18th feature. The absence of much of a score (although Marcelo Zavos is credited) may be an effort to avoid cliches of Brazilian ‘exoticism’, but it’s a drawback to promoting the picture internationally.
A lean unsentimental script by Braulio Mantovani (who wrote City of God) and tactile camera-work by DP Antoine Heberle make interwoven stories easy to follow in pictures alone - subtitles are barely needed. Attractive young actors should also help the film with the youth market. Home video could be strong with the growing public that is responding to Brazilian cinema.
Ending with the well-known highjacking, Last Stop 174 begins in Rio’s hillside slums, where a drug dealer rips three month old Alessandro from the arms of his coke addict mother, Marisa (Cris Vianna). The story cuts to another child ten years later, Sandro, who finds his mother stabbed to death in a robbery.
Both teenaged boys (Michel Gomes and Marcelo Mello, Jr.) end up in the street and in prison, and back on the streets. Marisa, off drugs and born-again, thinks her prayers have been answered when she finds Sandro in jail. Doubting that he’s the real son, the shrewd boy plays along, yet family life with Marisa can’t compete with the allure of crime, an obsession with a sexy street-kid turned prostitute (Gabriela Luiz) , and ever-present drugs. The bus highjacking erupts as a desperate inevitable crescendo.
Barreto’s direction of the story whose ending we know avoids the predictable hand-held ‘documentary’ style and the inflated gestures of City of God, opting for the look of an American urban crime drama of the 1970’s, seasoned with neo-realism. Even at a high emotional volume, he steers his actors clear of the melodramatic revenge-orgies of Elite Squad, which unfolded in the same territory.
Mantovani’s script (despite occasional obvious turns) is infused with a fatalism that presumes Rio’s sociology — rich and poor live in close proximity and crime is the sole livelihood for abandoned street kids. The dialogue in his tale of a mother’s search for her son among young street thugs is not eloquent, but it hits you with a visceral poignancy.
Likewise, the films gets credibility from its locations in gridlocked streets and around Rio’s main cathedral (where the real high-jacker survived a police massacre of sleeping street kids in 1993).
In his competent telling of a familiar story, Barreto’s discovery is Cris Vianna, helpless as a junkie and stalwart as a mother witnessing the loss of an irredeemable child. You leave the film wanting to see more of her.
Myriad Films +1-310-279-4003
Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre
Director of Photography
Claudio Amaral Peixoto
Marcelo Melo, Jr.