Twitch Talks With ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN Director Jose Padilha

Sean Smithson, Contributor
ELITE SQUAD: The Enemy Within is the second in writer/director Jose  Padilha's intricate and operatic crime duology, about the turmoil and extreme violence in  the slums of Rio de Janeiro, between the police and gangs, who are  interminably locked in battle. The most profitable film in Brazilian box  office history, outgrossing even the megahit Avatar, Elite Squad is in  limited release in US theaters now, so check those listings!

Jose was cool enough to sit down with us one early Sunday morning a few  weeks back, while attending Fantastic Fest, to talk about Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, and what life is  like on the tumultuous streets of the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Read on, and enjoy.



TWITCH - Well let's jump right into the deep end. What problems are you  addressing politically, and what is the film saying in a philosophical  sense about those problems?

JOSE - Right. Well if you go to Rio de Janeiro, it's a beautiful city.  You've probably seen postcards if you haven't been there. Beautiful  beaches, a great environment and everything...but, if you look at the  numbers of the violence in Rio, they are huge. You've seen some of it in  films like City Of God, for instance, which allows you to see the drug  trade and how gangs control large areas of the slums, or favela as we say  in Portuguese. Every year the police in Rio kill between eight hundred to  a thousand people, and that's an absurd number. In comparison, in the US  police kill about two-hundred fifty people, and the US has roughly three- hundred million inhabitants. Rio de Jenaro has seven million, yet every  year the police kill (again) eight-hundred to a thousand people. Why is  that? Elite Squad is about that. It is about what makes our cops so  violent. What is it that makes Rio so violent? What is the process that is  going on that is generating this ongoing war? If you are a tourist, and  you go to Rio, you'll have a great time and never see this happen. But it  is. So the film takes you those places.

TWITCH - Was there ever any real danger making Elite Squad? You hear the  stories about the making of Oliver Stone's Salvador, where people were  seriously hurt, or even the recent horror film The Dead which filmed in  Africa against harsh political conditions.

JOSE - Well, here's the thing. I have made two films about the subject  matter. Elite Squad focuses on the police. It focuses on one specific  policeman, Captain Nascimento, and it tells the story of the violence in  Rio through the eyes of this policeman. So the film is about what it's  like to being a policeman in such an environment. It's totally different  than being a policeman in New York, or Los Angeles, or anywhere in the US.  I think Elite Squad shows what it's like for Rio policeman who go to war  everyday. I have a metaphor which I use to explain this: The usual  American film about war, ok, is going to be about a soldier who gets  drafted and goes to war for six-months or a year, and then he comes home  and see's he cannot adjust. So you have the drama of him coming back, and  him not being able to get used to the day to day life he had before, due  to the war experience. The policeman in Rio, they go to war every night.  They go into the slums, and it is a war. With machine-guns, and grenades,  with shoot-out's and people dying. Then in the morning, they go home and  take their kids to school. SO it's like an American film, but you have to  adjust on a day to day basis. So that breeds very violent cops, that is  what the film is about.
When the film opened in Brazil, and Rio, the police were not happy,  because, you know, we showed what they do in the slums. So, we got sued by  a lot of cops, like eighteen lawsuits coming from the police about the  film coming out, and they tried to keep the film from opening. But luckily  we won the lawsuits, and Elite Squad opened. The worst thing that happened  was to me was, because I had the help of cops while I was writing the  script, the police commander of Rio tried to get me to give him the name  of the cops that helped, and I said "No. I am not going to do that". So,  they threatened to arrest me. (laughs) It was funny man, in the newspaper  the Chief said if I didn't give him the names and positions of who helped  me, he was going to come to my house and get (arrest) me. But the film was  so popular in Rio, and Brazil, that the Governor of the State felt it  would be bad for him politically if that happened. So he stepped in and  said "No no no. You are not arresting the filmmaker. He does not have to  give names." and that's the kind of thing that happened to me. I don't  think I was in danger of being killed or anything like that, that doesn't  happen in Rio. First of all I am a known filmmaker, and also my film is  very general. It doesn't talk about one specific group within the police,  and there are several of those, or one specific gang of drug dealers. It  talks about police and drug dealers in general, I'm not hitting anyone  particular.

TWITCH - Elite Squad is not a black and white film so to speak, the  character of Matias I think illustrates that. In the first film he is much  more gentile, and in the second he is much more a reactionary, and  aggressive. As one of the writers, which of the characters most reflects  your personal POV on the situations being shown in Elite Squad?

JOSE -  I think when you look at violence in Rio, or anywhere, there are  basically two different perspectives. One is the left wing, which says  "where there is poverty there is violence." and it all having to do with  class differences. That the violence in Rio is because there are very few  rich people, a lot of poor people.
Then there is the right wing which says "violence takes place because  repression is not good enough, the laws are not strict enough, the police  are not assertive enough". The problem with both views is that they are  wrong. If you look at Rio, the numbers that measure poverty, and compare  them with the numbers in New Delhi, you are going to find there is more  poverty in New Delhi. Yet Rio is much more violent. There is no simple,  direct connection between poverty and violence. There are other things one  needs to take into account.
Every time Rio tried to enforce stricter laws and hired more aggressive  police the violence went up, up instead of down.
My approach with Elite Squad is "OK, so...what is going on? If the left- wing is wrong, and the right-wing is wrong, why is it that Rio has so much  violence? My take is that there is a process, that is very efficient, of  converting poverty to violence, and that process is run by the state  itself. Because the state mismanages the way it treats street kids, small  time criminals, because it deals with them with amazing violence. They put  them in overcrowded jails, they beat the kids up, and by doing that the  state creates a lot of very violent criminals. On the other hand the state  also mismanages the police. It pays them a very low wage, puts them in the  situations you'll see in Elite Squad, where it is war every day. There is  a lot of corruption in the police organization. So the state is creating  violent cops and violent criminals, and they meet on the streets, and we  get the numbers we have. My perspective on it it this, try to forget about  the left and right, forget Leninism and Marxism, and let's look at what is  happening in a very pragmatic way.
I think the best way to understand is to put yourself in the place of a  cop, an honest cop, yet a violent cop, who is trying to deal with this  situation. I wrote Elite Squad with Bráulio Mantovani (City Of God), and  Rodrigo Pimentel (the book "Elite da Tropa"). Pimentel was a captain in  the elite squad in Rio. He lived that reality for ten years. He sat down  with us to write everyday for two years. We made a film from his point of  view.
 


For a full unabridged version of this interview, where Jose also talks about the up-coming Robocop remake he is helming, and his previous work in documentaries, listen to the next episode of THE NIGHT CREW!

Be sure to check those local listings too, and read Ryland Aldrich's review fpr Twitch HERE.
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