Week 10- Bus 174

Bus 174 was released in 2002 and directed by José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda. It is a documentary that recreates the events that happened on June 12th, 2000 when a Rio de Janeiro bus is taken hostage by Sandro Nascimento. The film attempts to show what happens when a man has nowhere else to turn but violence due to various historical circumstances.

As seen in earlier readings, poverty is great in the areas surrounding Rio de Janeiro. These places give rise to criminals who see crime as the only way to survive. Sandro is one of the abandoned children that grew up in these neighborhoods and would eventually turn to crime. Crime like hostage taking is not that uncommon, as evidenced by Alberto Salcedo Ramos’s The Drive-by Victim. Here he tells the story of how he became a hostage for a short time in a cab. This type of robbery is pretty common, as pointed out by Ramos himself. In this way Sandro taking to the street and robbing/kidnapping someone was not uncommon in Rio de Janeiro. What was uncommon was the scale to which he did the robbery. He took the entire bus hostage, which was remarkable in and of itself in Rio. Mostly it was small time crime, but here Sandro took an entire bus hostage and ended up on national television. He caused an upheaval that did not fit with the historical landscape of robberies and petty crimes normally found within Rio de Janeiro.

Of course the question must be asked, what drove Sandro to such actions? The easy answer is poverty. But what has caused that? How can an entire city be surrounded by slums which are in and of themselves filled with abandoned children who resort to street life? In one sense modernity can be to blame. As seen in Alma Guillermoprieto’s The Heart That Bleeds, modernity began to drive mariachis out of business in Mexico City. As the new modern subway was installed, people could not gain as easy access to the areas where the mariachis played, thus they would lose money. The same was said for electronics. As CD and tape players came to dominate, the mariachi bands no longer needed to stand outside parties and play their music. In Brazil, it is much the same. Children are forced to perform things like juggling on each others’ shoulders in the street just to try and make a way to squeak by and have something to eat. They resort to stealing and theft to feed their hungry bellies. As modernization comes it drives the poor down even further. It is in this climate that Sandro took to a life of crime.

Finally, the black hole like pull of the city must also be accounted for in Sandro’s life. As stated in The City as Vision – The Development of Urban Culture in Latin America by Mark D. Szuchman, “the Latin American city has pulled in millions of people who found little choice in the matter. In the process, it has shattered families, traditions, and small communities.” (Szuchman, 25) This is exactly what happened to Sandro. His family was pulled into the city and owned a business. But the city ended that when criminals came to his house and murdered his mother in front of him. The city itself, as an institution, had a part in making Sandro and his millions of other “street children” compatriots what they are.

In the end, the documentary successfully tells the tale of Sandro’s crime as well as putting up a convincing back story of how institutionalized processes led to the crime. However, the viewer must ask in the end, how much of it was his own fault? What if Sandro had just accepted his aunt’s invitation to live with her?