José Padilha’s lacerating Tropa de Elite, which took the top prize at Berlin, studies the mind of BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) officer Nascimento. We hear his recollective voiceover. Nascimento (meaning, in Portuguese, birth), an officially sanctioned torturer and terrorist, possesses a flat, affectless voice that claims moral purity; superior, Nascimento equates “thugs”—drug lords and dealers—and “corrupt cops,” and distinguishes himself from them. We see Nascimento in 1997; even as his wife is poised to bear their child, he is like a zombie that has wandered out of a science-fiction thriller. This is society’s salvation? Nascimento: “In Rio, every cop must make a choice. He either turns dirty, keeps his mouth shut, or makes war.” Nascimento, now retired, made war. (Be forewarned: Bloody war.) Confronted by the mother of a lookout who “squealed,” whom Nascimento released from custody to his certain death at the hands of those he betrayed, Nascimento tells us: “For a BOPE officer, guilt is a dangerous feeling.” This is the “new man” that Nascimento represents: one who locates virtue in not feeling—in not being human.
Some reviewers have professed confusion at the Brazilian film’s zigzagging time/setting scheme; but doesn’t it accurately express the narrator’s delusion that he controls everything? Nascimento weaves a web of stunning rationalizations, affording us a sense of a fascist mindset from the inside out. The state uses him, presumably to maintain “law and order”; but everywhere we see the causal connection between Nascimento and the violent, crime-infested slums. Even rich kids become criminals because they feel they have no other way to protest Nascimentoism.
The ingenious script pursues two narrative paths: the police massacre in the Turano slum to accommodate the Pope’s imminent visit to Rio de Janeiro; retiring Nascimento’s search for replacements.
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