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on November 23, 2004
On June 12th, 2000, a man boarded a bus in Rio de Janeiro with the intention of robbing its passengers. When the robbery turned sour, Sandro, the perpetrator, turned the driver and the passengers into hostages, threatening to kill them one by one if his demands weren't met. Carried live on Brazilian television, the event garnered national attention as the tense standoff between Sandro and the police played itself out. "Bus 174," a riveting documentary by Jose Padilha and Felipe Lacerda, is an account of that event.

Not content to merely rehash the details of that day's experience, the filmmakers use their film as an opportunity to examine many of the social ills that laid the groundwork for the tragedy in the first place. The harshest criticism is reserved for the Brazilian government and the Brazilian people who look the other way when it comes to the hundreds of homeless children living on the crowded streets of Rio de Janeiro. Sandro was himself such a child, having witnessed the murder of his mother at a young age then turning to street life and street crime as his only means of survival. We learn that not only is the plight of such people routinely ignored by the vast majority of Rio's residents, but that both citizens and government officials have taken a proactive part in harassing and, in some cases, even killing these children. Sandro is clearly a product of his environment, and his actions on that day largely extend from the lack of a societal connection he's felt all his life. The directors also take swipes at an incompetent, corrupt police force, a brutal, dehumanizing prison system, and a sensation-seeking, voyeuristic public who feeds on the unfolding live tragedy as if it were a Hollywood action movie or some kind of lurid scripted drama.

Interwoven with footage from the actual incident are interviews with various participants in the drama, ranging from police officials to SWAT team members to surviving hostages to tortured prisoners to social workers to psychologists to friends and relatives of Sandro himself. Through these interviews, Padilha and Lacerda weave a tapestry of Brazilian society that spares no one and indicts us all in one way or another. What is most impressive about "Bus 174" is how our emotions get all tied up in a knot, as we find our loyalties shifting back and forth between the various participants in the drama. At one moment we sympathize with Sandro and all the suffering he's experienced, and the next with the innocent hostages who simply want to escape this madman and return to their normal lives. At times, we find ourselves rooting for the befuddled cops, while at others, we are inclined to side with the downtrodden and see the law enforcement officials as the true villains of the piece.

The events that occurred on that day shook a nation, serving as a wakeup call for a society that has attempted to sweep its injustices and social ills under a blood-stained carpet. Yet, this isn't a situation unique to Rio, by any means, for Sandro's story is representative of what happens in all major cities when poverty and misery are allowed to go unchecked and when indifference to suffering becomes the norm of the privileged classes. "Bus 174" is more than just a recounting of an isolated incident; it is a glimpse into the dark heart of Man that we all ignore at our own peril.
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Bus 174 was hijacked in June of 2000 on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by Sandro di Nascimento, a young man who was one of the so called invisible street people living in the city. Almost immediately hoards of police and television crews appeared on the scene. Approximately 35 million Brazilians watched on TV as the dramatic events of the hijacking were captured on film and transmitted to the public.

The fact that this event was being televised appears to have influenced the strategy of the police to control the situation and negotiate the release of the hostages. Instead of taking action to resolve the problem, the police talked aimlessly with Sandro for several hours as he ranted and raved, threatened to kill various passengers, made demands of the authorities, and in the end left the bus with a young woman tightly in his grasp as he pointed a handgun to her head. What followed was an all too predicatable series of events that left both the young woman and Sandro dead.

If this factual documentation of the events of the Bus 174 tragedy were the entire story, this film would not have generated the notoriety it has received. Fortunately, director Jose Padilha realized that a much bigger story needed to be told. Consequently, he skillfully includes background material about Sandro and the so called invisible street people who roam the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

The invisible ones start out like Sandro as young children with no place to go and no one to care for them. They live by wandering the streets searching for something to steal. They sleep in cardboard shelters, if they are lucky, or huddled together in nooks and crannies of public buildings or churches. The police regularly kill them or incarcerate them, often without trial, in the most dreadful prisons where they are jammed together in oppressive heat without even the most basic sanitary facilities. The general public in Brazil does not seem to be much concerned that streeet children are regularly being beaten, imprisoned, and killed. In fact, it seems as if some portion of the ruling class would prefer that the police kill more of these unfortunate children. Viewers will find it hard to consider Brazil a civilized country after watching Bus 174.

The story is about Sandro, but it is clear that the hopelessness and despair that resulted in his futile and crazy behavior might just as well have been perpetrated by hundreds of street people just like him. The beautiful beaches of Rio and the thousands of rich tourists who flock to them stand in stark contrast to the desperate children who roam their fringes watching for a chance to steal a part of the dream they can see but not touch.

Sandro's dream was more modest -- a home and family with a job to support himself. As the film suggests, he had no hope of realizing his ambitions. This documentary never condones his behavior, but helps us to understand the anger and rage that prompts it.
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on January 27, 2005
A word of advice: if you are going to review, please DO NOT give away the ending...I'm glad I read all these reviews after I saw the video...part of the film's power is the suspense.

ANYway, I showed this video to my criminal justice class and we did a compare/contrast to the shootings at Columbine high school. Emotions in the class ranged from frustration to anger to sadness and students left the room talking about it!

Although the film may be viewed as biased, there is no question to reality when one sees the interior of the jails and the treatment of the inmates, learns of the lack of training and sees it in the Rio PD, and observes the street kids as they huddle on cement in shabby blankets, sniff paint & glue from a plastic bottle, and don worn clothing with American sports logos. It is gritty, it is suspenseful, it is dark and eye-opeing and everything you would want in a documentary. The needless waste of human beings, the surreal world outside of the US and inside of a Rio jail, and the videos of the streets where "Sergio" survived is in your face without being preachy or judgemental.

I highly recommend this video to other educators, and when you compare it to Columbine high school shootings, it brings it home with a look at culture, law enforcement, government, etc.
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on January 14, 2006
The event this documentary is about, later known as "Bus 174 Affair" is about a youth from the streets who tries to rob a bus load of people and gets caught in the act by police; leading to a standoff.

But this documentary gets deep into the life of the perpatrator Sandro's life, interviewing cellmates, family members, friends, social workers, etc. It goes into the history of streetkids like him, the history of Brazilian poverty. It portrays a very broad picture of Brazilian poverty, Brazilian police brutality and Brazilian street life.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who's interested in the origins of crime, the origins of violence. If you liked the documentary accompanying the City of God DVD then you'll love this documentary as well.

It is a breathtaking documentary that's ending is totally unpredictable and will definately leave you with a lot to think about.
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VINE VOICEon September 30, 2010
Bus 174 is a tense and suspenseful documentary that involves a hostage takeover of a city bus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On June 12th, 2000, a young man named Sandro Nascimento, with a troubled past as a street kid, hijacked a street bus terrorizing the passengers. Plenty of film footage was available, footage that was powerful, dramatic and sad. The film is lengthy, at 150 minutes, but it keeps the viewer on the edge. It is interspersed with lengthy broadcast footage of the event and contains interviews with those who were related to Nascimento, those who knew him and his troubled past, the response team, former street kids, etc.

When he was a child, Sandro do Nascimento witnessed his mother stabbed to death during a robbery. From there, he became a street kid, surviving the brutality of the police, sniffing glue, and stay alive. Living on the streets, during the early 90s, he survived a massacre of street kids by the police. The DVD contains excellent commentary by Director José Padilha on how he went about to get the footage from Global TV, how to get the hostages to recount the stories, how to weave in personal interviews from family, police, inhumane conditions at the prisons, street life, etc.

You will get a clear picture of the culture of violence in Rio de Janeiro, the treatment of street kids, the corrupt police. It is said that those who apply for police jobs are at their last resort for a job, poorly trained, and with low self esteems. The worse is the inhumane prison/jail conditions.

The tense moments during the hostage takeover finally comes to an end, as the viewer has plenty of questions during the ordeal.

There are too many Sandros in Brazil, children born into violence, surviving with violence and dying in violent means. It's clear, Sandro had dreams, but society does not let him achieve those dreams. This is a powerful, graphic drama. Don't miss the Special Feature with the Director. .....Rizzo
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on May 28, 2006
This documentary chronicles the hijacking of a bus by a drugged and desperate Sandro Rosa do Nascimento, who upon realizng the national spectacle that he is causing, begins to create a drug-influenced show that mixes criminal bravado, important social commentary, and terror that exposes some of the weaknesses of Brazil.

It turns out that this hijacking became the most infamous crime in Sao Paulo's history, if not the whole of Brazil's.

When we examine his past, it turns out that Sando do Nascimento was a survivor of the "Candelaria Massacre" which occured seven years earlier. In this, the police took revenge on homeless kids by converging and firing on them while they slept, killing seven of them.

That event was PREVIOUSLY the most infamous crime in Brazil's memory.

The fact that Nascimento came from that tragedy to create the next big one, topped by the fact that during the siege he actually MENTIONED the killing of his friends at Candelaria, and his witnessing the murder of his mother at a young age, and his phrasing, "Brazil, check this out" & "How can you let someone with such a pretty face die?" hit me as this whole criminal act having a higher meaning in Brazil society.

It was as if this whole thing occurred to motivate the government and people of Brazil to do much more to try easing the social ills and unequality. That pretending that these things dont happen and that the problems of certain people don't exist will only create ticking time bombs that will eventually begin to constantly explode directly in their faces instead of somewhere "out of sight", where it is preferred. Actually, I am suprised that the result of this was not much worse.

It's horrible that an innocent life was lost during this, and its just as sad that the government hasn't done much since to help more at-risk individuals from completely going off the deep end like Nascimento.
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on February 3, 2011
I am ambivalent about this movie. I can't really say if I'd recommend it, despite its strengths. But let me start with those.

1) It tells a gripping story. I repeatedly thought of it as a true-to-life version of Dog Day Afternoon.
2) It gives powerful background information on the hijacker, which deepens the film dramatically.
3) The hijacker is simultaneously the film's main protagonist and antagonist, which is a powerful cinematic coup.
4) In this vein, this movie shows how a vile, violent criminal can also be a gentle, compassionate soul at the same time. So true!
5) It details a stunning level of corruption, horror, poverty, bureaucratic incompetence, and wide-scale tragedy in Brazil.
6) It shows glimpses of real human beauty, such as when Sandro gets "adopted" as an adult by a kindly poor woman in the favela. This was touching, and made me cry.
7) Fantastic cinematography (by the news crews, mostly). So many good video shots.
8) There was a tight logic to the story. The juxtaposition of the bus tragedy and interviews and historical information really worked.

But now the weaknesses, and they are few, but to me, potent:

1) The film was simply too long. Many of the points, especially in the interviews and historical segments were made so repeatedly that I found myself bored, and did a bit of fast-forwarding. A good half-hour (that is, about a quarter of the film) could have been shaved off.

2) The film's context was too small. The film's social message -- that Brazil lets so many street children fall through its cracks, or even pushes them through the cracks, and thus is directly responsible for the havoc they later wreak -- was insufficient, and I found it wholly unsatisfying. Yes, everything they said was true, but I crave a much bigger message and get tired of films that tackles major social issues and fall short.

The implication from this film is that if we just solve the problem of street children, by giving them better social programs and better rehabilitation, and by training the police better, then all will be well. What a farce. Out-of-control street child are a symptom of an infected fingertip, yet the whole hand is rotten. And Brazil is only a hand; the rest of the world is the arm and body, and that's rotten too.

Questions regarding the bigger picture: Why are so many people having children so mindlessly? What about overpopulation? What about the idea that everyone, Brazilian or otherwise, to varying degrees, are abusing and neglecting their children? Can we not see that our whole world is teetering on the edge of destruction, and that we are all causing it?
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on April 16, 2006
"On July 12, 2000, the Rio de Janeiro police trapped a man who was trying to rob a bus. He took eleven hostages, and the local SWAT team was called. This incident became known in Brazil as the Bus 174 affair". That is the way in which this Brazilian documentary, directed by Jose Padilha and Felipe Lacerda, begins.

Truth to be told, I was afraid it was going to be too violent. I wasn t wrong, but there is much more to "Bus 174" than violence. This documentary includes live footage regarding what happened, but also interviews with street kids that knew Sandro, the man who ended up as the main protagonist of this tragedy. He didn t have a purpose, he didn t ask for anything, he just was stopped in the middle of a robbery and ended up trapped in a situation he couldn t handle.

The documentary allows us to be witnesses to Sandro s life, and to the events that would take him from his home, to the streets, a reformatory, prison and finally bus 174. Some interviews with a social worker, a sociologist, a journalist and the mediator that worked in this case allow to shed more light on this event, and on Sandro s life. For example, we learn that Sandro never knew his father, and that he witnessed the murder of his mother at a young age. After that, he ran away from his home and started living in the streets, joining a gang of "meninos da rua". Sandro was also one of the survivors of the "Candelaria massacre" of children that lived in the street, that happened in the early 1990 s. He escaped violent death, only to find it later, in a different way.

In general, I think that the directors are trying to point out that the reason why Sandro, a victim of the "Candelaria massacre", became the perpetrator of another tragedy is not circumstantial, but has to do with a system that allows many children to be invisible to those that are well off, until the children grow and confront them with violence. In my opinion, that conclusion may be pertinent for Brazil, but it is also relevant for many other countries. Social exclusion and disregard are never valid answers.

All in all, highly recommended.

Belen Alcat
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on March 6, 2010
Bus 174 (Ônibus 174): 7 out of 10: Sandro is the name of our protagonist in Bus 174. The film is the latest in a long line of documentaries dealing with the street children of Brazil. This documentary is simply the cream of the crop. Using actual footage of a hostage crisis where Sandro takes a municipal bus hostage the film creates great tension for the viewer. (Especially American viewers like me who have no idea how this turns out.)

Interspersed between scenes of the hostage crisis are talking head interviews (a mixed bag from fascinating like Sandro's Aunt to annoying such as Sandro's social worker). Most fascinating is the sheer volume of footage from Sandro's street life before the crisis. The Documentary filmmakers really went out of their way to dig up these treasures.

The documentary is not without flaws however. The sheer volume of people who helped Sandro out in his young life undercuts the whole street kid premise of the film. The middle third does drag as many have noted and there is a horribly misjudged scene in a jail where prisoners shout out their grievances. (Shot in the negative like the monster vision from a mid-nineties creature feature it is a clear fabrication as the filmmakers were denied access to the actual jail in question. It is unnecessary and kills the mood like that Trey Parker style cartoon in Bowling for Columbine).

Those overall minor flaws aside this is one fascinating documentary that truly takes you into another world. Despite cursing and brief male nudity I would recommend this to every high school history class to see how the third world really lives.
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This is perhaps the most honest documentary I have ever seen. It portrays with actual footage and post-facto interviews a tragic and sad event that is unfortunately not an isolated incident in Rio de Janeiro. Bus robberies and burnings are somewhat common, but, this particularly incident and the choices the drug addicted homeless robber and the police made turned this into a notorious national incident. The filmaker explores the lives of homeless children who grow up without any parents or role models in Brazil, drug addiction to pasta basica and inhalants by those street kids and what led up to the robbery of the bus. The filmmaker does not apologize for or attempt to rationalize the horrible actions committed by the homeless robber but explores the sad social conditions that create such a situation and individual. The filmmaker then explores and interviews the police involved in the incident and explores why police in Brazil have a reputation for violence, how being a policeman in Rio's favelas is nearly equivalent to serving in a war zone and how that contributed to the incident. For anyone interested in Brazil, a fascinating country that is an emerging economic super-power, this film also points out the tremendous amounts of work Brazil needs to do in improving its social and security conditions as it joins the developed world.
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