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Two new movies lift lid on Brazil's dark side

 An undated handout photo shows the poster of the film
An undated handout photo shows the poster of the film 'Salve Geral'. 'Salve Geral,' Brazil's Oscar entry for best foreign language film, is the first major movie depicting the violence that paralyzed the financial capital Sao Paulo in May 2006 when a prison gang launched coordinated attacks on the city. The film is one of two very different movies showing an ugly, violent side of Brazil that many would rather forget as the country prepares to host both the World Cup and the Olympics within the next seven years. REUTERS/Handout
— image credit: Reuters

By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Two very different movies are showing an ugly, violent side of Brazil that many would rather forget as the country prepares to host both the World Cup and the Olympics within the next seven years.

"Salve Geral," Brazil's Oscar entry for best foreign language film, is the first major movie depicting the violence that paralyzed Sao Paulo in May 2006 when a prison gang launched coordinated attacks on South America's largest city.

The orgy of violence unleashed by the First Command of the Capital (PCC) gang left 493 people dead. Forty-three were police but 450 were civilians, many of them shot by police in a brutal response roundly condemned by human rights groups.

The timing of "Salve Geral," whose title refers to the code used by the PCC to start the attacks, has added to its impact. The alleged leader of the PCC went on trial last week accused of ordering the assassination of a judge in 2003.

Some have criticized the film as overly sympathetic to the prisoners, who formed the PCC in the early 1990s to pressure authorities to improve the dismal conditions in Sao Paulo state's overcrowded prisons.

The movie, by Brazilian director Sergio Rezende, tells the story through the fictional experience of a middle-class mother who is drawn into the murky world of the PCC and corrupt prison officials after her son is jailed for murder.

At one point, it depicts state officials desperately negotiating with PCC leaders to stop the rampage -- something they have denied doing. In another scene, police shoot dead two youths merely for being on the street during the violence.

Luiz Eduardo Soares, a respected former national secretary of public security, said many Brazilians still don't understand that the violence originated with the brutal treatment of prisoners, and that little has changed since the attacks.

"It needs to be understood that the state was responsible for the origin of the problem, something that wasn't admitted by many at the time of the explosion," he said after a showing of the film in Rio de Janeiro in September.

CAVIAR WITH THE DEVIL

The documentary "Dancing with the Devil," which premiered at Rio's annual film festival on Sunday, traces the daily lives of three men caught up in the city's violence -- a drug lord, a police officer and an evangelical pastor.

The movie, filmed last year by British Oscar-winning documentary director Jon Blair, is among the most intimate portraits yet of the Rio's long-running drug violence. Unusually, the drug traffickers in the film allowed their faces to be filmed.

Without passing judgment, the film essentially shows the trio trying to survive what one cop describes during one of the police's almost daily raids on slums as "our crazy war."

In doing so, it portrays the futility of the violence that plagues Brazil's beachside city, which on Friday was awarded the 2016 Olympics and will be among the host cities for the 2014 soccer World Cup.

In a poignant scene, one of Rio's most wanted drug lords known as "Tola" speaks with surprising eloquence about how his power and wealth have brought him only paranoia and misery.

"This isn't life," says the trafficker, whose body has been deformed by bullet wounds and who never learned to read. "It is better to eat bread with God than caviar with the devil."

Near the end, a cop weeps after a fellow officer is shot in the head by traffickers and we learn that the film's central drug lord "Spiderman" was killed by police this year. Police said they killed him in self defense, while slum residents said he was executed by officers as he begged for his life.

His place is immediately taken by a new drug boss.

Officials who campaigned for the Olympics have downplayed Rio's security problems and some commentators expressed outrage last week when the New Yorker magazine published an article on Rio's violence days before the Olympic host-city vote.

Blair told Reuters that many people had questioned the motives behind making a film showing Rio's "violent underbelly," but that Rio state's nearly 6,000 murders a year showed that the city needs to look in the mirror.

"As a friend of Rio I believe the city needs to face up to the implications of these statistics as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, not to pretend they do not exist," he said.

(Editing by Kieran Murray)

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