Bus 174

What the hell was I thinking?

That was my main thought after I finished watching “Bus 174″ at approximately 5:30 a.m. (a bit past my normal bedtime). On a whim, I decided to watch a documentary about a hostage situation in Brazil, which is also about the larger class divide in that country, before I went to bed. Again, what the hell was I thinking?

“Bus 174,” directed by Jos Padilha and Felipe Lacerda, is not your typical documentary, but it certainly starts that way. On June 12, 2000, a young man named Sandro do Nascimento, who had been living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro since he was 6, held up a bus. Something went wrong in the attempted robbery, and he ended up taking hostages and holding them prisoner for four hours. The entire incident was caught on film, and that footage makes up the most of the film.

But the heist gone wrong isn’t the whole picture; through interviews with hostages, police officers, family members and friends, the audience gets a look into the life of Sandro and what happened that led him to his moment of infamy.

And like any good journalistic piece, Sandro’s story is part of the larger picture of his time, mainly the life of street kids in Brazil.

Sandro witnessed his mother’s murder at 6, then hit the streets trying to forget. He joined street gangs, sniffed glue and stole to survive the day. In and out of overcrowded and inhumane jails, he just drifted through an invisible existence, until finally (as a sociologist put it), in a foolish gesture, he made himself visible to the world through a crime with no purpose.

But Sandro isn’t the only street kid in Brazil; he’s one of a faceless many who will live in the gutters of their city and then die pointless deaths and no one will care to mourn them. The Candelria massacre, a small part of the film and a huge part of Sandro’s life, demonstrates this point. In 1993, eight street children were killed by a mob of adults, some of them police officers; as Sandro’s social worker points out, many people in the city thought of the massacre as a good start.

Sandro can’t be excused for his crimes, or not held responsible for his actions on that bus, but the film shows that there is a need to look at these people, to see the whole picture of their lives before writing them off as animals.

At the end, in the wee hours of the morning, I cried over his fate, his Shakespearean tragedy of a life, just as I cried for the fate of those on that bus, and those left on the streets.

Don’t watch “Bus 174″ at 3:30 in the morning, but don’t miss it either.

“Bus 174″ (2002)

Directed by Jos Padilha and Felipe Lacerda

Written by Jos Padilha