Manda Bala

"OK"

Manda Bala Review


The most searing, retina-burning images in Jason Kohn's rangy, seat-of-the-pants documentary, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), are in fact frogs. At a vast frog farm in central Brazil, thousands upon thousands of the slippery and slimy green creatures are raised in great water tanks before being unceremoniously dumped (they slide and tumble out helplessly, limbs flailing at the air in slow-motion like a breathing green river) into buckets or plastic bags. After that, they'll be shipped out of the country in massive pallets marked "Live Frogs" or butchered at home to end up as deep-fried delicacies. Kohn's film is really about the manic state of life in modern-day Brazil, and how people cope with it, but he can't help cutting back to those frogs. From aerial shots of the teeming favelas to those panicking, hopelessly flopping, doomed little amphibians; the point isn't subtle.

Although cutting often from one story to another, everything in Manda Bala comes down to one theme: How corruption at a very high level has helped create the crushing poverty and attendant cynicism which has fueled the explosion of street crime in recent years, particularly in megalopolises like Sao Paulo (population 20 million). The villain who personifies the government's endemic corruption here is Congressman Jader Barbalho, a former president of the Brazilian senate and one of the most powerful men in the country. As a parade of attorneys and investigators testify, Barbalho has been responsible for a staggering litany of sanctioned thefts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars and mostly involving fake public works projects (including the previously mentioned frog farm). But since elected Brazilian officials are completely immune from the civilian courts, Barbalho is still a free man, running his section of the northern state of Para like a private fiefdom. One attorney who's made it his life mission to get Barbalho for at least one of his crimes says, in a matter-of-fact way, that he'll continue doing it until Barbalho has him killed; which his shrug suggests is a definite possibility.

From here, Kohn shows how this sense of total corruption at the top influences street criminals like the serial kidnapper and bank robber he interviews. The man talks about how the rich don't care, and the government does nothing for the poor, so why shouldn't he take it back? He's even paying for a new sewage system in his poor neighborhood. It's all cause-effect, and with a capitalistic edge. Carjackings have gone up, so Kohn interviews a manufacturer of bulletproof cars (business is booming) and shows us the world's largest fleet of privately-owned helicopters (an increasingly popular method of transportation for the very rich who just want to hop from the top of one skyscraper to the next without ever touching the dangerous ground). Because kidnappings in which the criminals cut off one or both of the ears of the kidnapped (they mail the ears to the family as a way of scaring ransom money out of them), reconstructive surgery on ears has become a booming business for one suspiciously gleeful surgeon Kohn interviews. The connections are almost all too easy, and while intriguing, they are never quite delved into by a film that's too happy to groove on the surface.

There's a lot to like in Manda Bala, particularly its willingness to get right down in there amidst the gritty realities of Brazilian chaos and corruption. Kohn is a student of the great Errol Morris, and the influence shows clearly in his rather off-centered interview segments, where subjects seem often ill-at-ease and lost for words, often with an interpreter speaking their responses in English instead of having us rely on printed subtitles. Kohn also shares Morris' tendency to make intuitive editing leaps between subjects or themes, something he shows repeatedly in a film that tries to tie up a great big story including multiple narrative strands. Kohn has other, less welcome, influences, though, and they appear to be of the post-Tarantino variety, particularly when it comes to marrying a jaunty musical score (in this case, a strong batch of well-selected and sharp Brazilian rock and pop tunes) with scenes of deplorable violence or cringe-inducing brutality. This habit is easier to excuse in fictional film; when the subjects are so deadly serious as they are in this documentary, it borders on thoughtless.

I think I see my house.



Manda Bala

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Sunday 19th April 2009

Distributed by: Slowhand Cinema Releasing

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jason Kohn

Producer: Jason Kohn, Jared Ian Goldman, Joey Frank

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