Bus 174

On the morning of April 12, 2000, Sandro do Nascimento hijacked a city bus in Rio de Janeiro and held 11 passengers hostage, sparking a tense standoff that lasted five hours and ended in astonishing chaos and tragedy. Because the inept police force failed to contain the scene properly, the drama played out live on local television, with cameras and reporters covering the action from every angle. Much has been made about how the cameras turned the incident into another Dog Day Afternoon, because they kept the SWAT team from taking aggressive measures and encouraged all parties to get caught up in a dangerous form of live theater. The omnipresent coverage adds a breathless level of tension to José Padilha's superb documentary Bus 174, just as it did for the many Brazilians who watched the events unfold in real time. But as Padilha delves further into do Nascimento's horrific yet sadly emblematic history, the cameras serve a deeper, more poignant purpose, acting as an ironic memorial to an "invisible" life that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. In what amounts to an extraordinary act of empathy with wide-reaching social and political implications, Padilha re-frames the incident through a powerful investigation into do Nascimento's past, tracing the all-too-common trajectory of Rio de Janeiro's forgotten street kids. Like a great piece of investigative journalism, Bus 174 rounds up a full complement of interview subjects: SWAT team members and hostages from the scene, do Nascimento's aunt, fellow street urchins, and other sympathizers, in addition to social workers, guards, a sociologist, and numerous men who have been brutalized by the city's justice system. Born into poverty in a sprawling Rio de Janeiro slum, do Nascimento bore witness to several violent tragedies long before he perpetrated one himself. After seeing his mother stabbed to death at age 6, he joined the legion of street kids who panhandled and robbed tourists in Copacabana, eventually settling on a popular sleeping spot in front of the Candelária Church. He was on hand during the 1993 Candelária massacre, when a group of plainclothes police officers slaughtered several of his friends. By the time he hijacked the bus, do Nascimento had been in and out of juvenile detention centers and the city's filthy, overcrowded prisons, where he was regularly beaten and malnourished. On that fateful day, Brazilians saw a crazed, unstable man who was prepared to take a busload of passengers down along with him, but Padilha paints a substantially different picture, one that the cameras couldn't pick up. The hostages, in particular, share a connection with do Nascimento that's more than a case of Stockholm Syndrome: They recall a "parallel dialogue" inside the bus that strongly contradicts his threats to the authorities. Edited with an impeccable sense of timing and rhythm, with each new revelation and insight planted at just the right moment, Bus 174 examines an already gripping story from a moving and untold perspective.

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