(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: In an account that is by turns funny, shocking, and revolting, director Jason Kohn documents the state of modern-day Brazil, ravaged by poverty, horrendous crime, and political corruption. Chosen for a major investigation is Senator Jader Barbalho who is claimed to have looted two billion dollars from a fund to bring relief to the peoples of the Amazon region. Visuals and descriptions are harrowing. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

[Note that I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the point of view of the makers of this film. But since I cannot vouch for the accuracy or inaccuracy, the views presented below should be taken as those presented by the filmmakers and not a viewpoint to which I personally can attest.]

MANDA BALA is the picture of a country and a society that is entirely out of control. Told with black humor and stomach-churning detail, this is a portrait of Brazil. In Jason Kohn's film directorial debut we see the ravages that political graft and that unchecked crime have caused. In particular, the film is an indictment of Senator Jader Barbalho who has totally raped the country. Barbalho has administered the funds of SUDAM (Superintendência para o Desenvolvimento da Amazônia), the Amazon Region Development Authority. This investment fund that Brazil established to aid the peoples of the Amazon regions and to foster investment. Instead the film tells us that the investments have been 100% for corrupt projects and to siphon the funds off for graft. They set up 400 projects, all claimed to be corrupt. Nearly two billion dollars was stolen. Barbalho has become very wealthy by graft as his country descends into chaos.

And we see the chaos. The only rich region of Brazil is Sao Paulo. The poor have gravitated there as matter of survival and its population is now about twenty million people. Because this is where the money is, this is also where the crime is, and it has reached apocalyptic levels. The people of San Paulo have adapted as well as possible to the huge rated of kidnappings, at the level of one a day in the city. These are among the most brutal kidnappings one can imagine. The kidnappers favorite tactic is to cut pieces off of the hostages and send them to the family. This has become so common that there is, as the film examines, a major industry in plastic and reconstructive surgery to undo the maiming that kidnappers have done to extort ransom. The filmmakers interview a kidnap victim whose ear was cut off and sent to her family. In what seems like a digression of questionable relevance we hear from a plastic surgeon what the process is to reconstruct an ear from the cartilage remaining and from flesh taken from other parts of the body. We get to see close-up footage of such an operation. We also see the details of bullet-proofing a car, something that has become a necessity of living in Sao Paulo. Courses are given on how to drive the heavier armored automobiles and how to handle an attack by machine guns.

The documentary is told with a dark painful wit. It begins with a frog farm, one of the corrupt projects set up by SUDAM. Frogs are raised here to be eaten as a delicacy. This is farm is used both literally and metaphorically. Under the end-credits we see a tadpole pool with a small open drain. Most of the tadpoles swim around unconcerned while those near the drain get sucked down. Eventually more and more tadpoles fall through the drain and the water level falls until every tadpole is affected. The film is primarily in English, but with a fair proportion in Portuguese. When a character is talking sometimes it will be subtitled and sometimes an onscreen translator will interpret for the camera. Many will find the verbal descriptions and the images shown on the screen to be disturbing. The filmmakers note that the film is not allowed to be shown in Brazil. And it is a powerful and discouraging picture of life in that country. I rate MANDA BALA a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper