The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Sandro do Nascimento never met his father. When he was six, robbers stabbed his hardworking mother to death before his eyes. On his own, Sandro survived the “unsolved” Candelária Massacre, in which probably off-duty police officers opened fire on homeless children in a makeshift outdoor shelter in front of a church. Thus Sandro lost a number of friends—another family. He robbed, to survive and to support a cocaine habit. Imprisoned in a filthy, teemingly overcrowded juvenile detention facility, the adolescent boy was starved and beaten. On June 12, 2000, armed with a gun loaded with a few bullets, Sandro hijacked a city bus and held its passengers hostage. At 18, he was one homeless youth who would be “invisible” no longer. Televised, the standoff between him and the police became a ratings hit, lasting a few hours. In camera view, Sandro’s life was foolproof against police assassination. Eventually, though, he left his safety zone, with one hostage in tow. Out of camera range, intending to shoot Sandro, the police are likely the ones who shot and killed his young hostage instead. The police had done what they were supposed to do: catch Sandro do Nascimento alive. However, in the police wagon en route to the station, they suffocated him. Rio de Janeiro rejoiced when Sandro’s murderers were acquitted at trial.
José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda’s Brazilian documentary begins with an aerial shot traversing water, shore, moneyed mansions and, on the other side of a hill, Rocinha, a teemingly overcrowded, vast favela—the juxtaposition of rich and poor, in a single sweeping shot. The bus footage is woven into contextualizing interviews, including the film’s zenith, in photographic negative a passage about other detainees in Sandro’s prison—a “hell-hole,” one guard calls it.
Ônibus 174 makes the invisible visible.