The idiot elite

I finally got around to watching Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad), a very popular movie here about the BOPE, the special forces who infiltrate the drug underworld of the favelas. It is pretty gripping, as violent as you would expect, and as it was based on a book by an ex-member of the BOPE, I am assured it contains fairly realistic attention to detail.

Then I went on Rotten Tomatoes and read a litany of criticism of the movie. Chief among the gripes is the notion that it “doesn’t know where its morals lie.” Because directors owe it to us to give the people a lesson in morals, obviously.

Most of the complaints focus on the suggestion that the the director is trying to tell us brute force is the only solution to the drug trade and violence that comes with it.

I find this attitude depressingly endemic. If a film depicts the attitude of a character, that is taken to represent the attitude of the film itself, and there is some sort of assumption that films should tell us what to think. In extreme situations some people will offer extreme solutions, and showing that (especially in a compelling movie like Tropa de Elite) is important. Not that movies owe it to us to do anything morally worthwhile at all if that’s not what the director wants to do. People will have to use their brains and make their own moral decisions. Spoonfeeding people creates a nation of idiots. Maybe it would be better if the world wasn’t the way it was, but putting your head in the sand isn’t going to change anything so I for one would rather engage with the bloody truth.

I would urge anyone to see the film, and I will be going to see the sequel when it comes out (here in October, not sure when for the UK and elsewhere). Apart from a dreadful REM song the soundtrack of the last one is pretty good too.

Prime real estate?

Last week I did what a lot of ex-pats end up doing for money, and went to a casting for an advert. Foreign-looking types are in demand, even in Rio, where almost anybody could pass as a native Brazilian. I went with Lars, a German property developer who possesses the white blonde hair and crystal blue eyes of unmistakable Gringo genes.

Don’t think I got the role (as a tourist coming to Brazil for the first time), mainly due to my diabolical acting skills, but now I’m on their books it could be another way to make some money.

Lars was telling me that efforts to clear away some of the favelas, at least in the Zona Sul close to the tourist attractions of Copacabana and Ipanema, will eventually lead to that land becoming prime real estate. On first arriving in Rio, especially at night as I did, it’s difficult not to imagine the twinkling lights on all the hills as belonging to the kind of idyllic villages that populate the mountains of, say, Amalfi. Now I`ve been up there myself a few times, I can confirm they’ve got some of the best views.

This process of sanitation, starting with the police occupation (which as far as I can establish only extends as far as the visible spots in Zona Sul), also perhaps inevitably extends to the language. I was informed by one resident not to use the word “favela”, because this has derogatory connotations. Instead, we must say “comunidade”, which means community. As often happens in these cases, the choice of an apparently neutral word has itself become tainted. Another friend told me about a friend of his from the countryside who had formally used the phrase “rural community” to explain where he lived, but was now at great pains to point out he doesn’t like in thatkind of comunidade.

It is unclear in the long-term what the “solution” will be to the favela situation, and even if one is actually needed. Sociologist Janice Perlman, in four decades of studying the favelas of Rio, discovered far greater social mobility than generally supposed, as well as the often overlooked necessity for people with low-income jobs to live near their work in order for the city to continue to function. The Indian approach of building vast housing blocks at a distance from the city seems depressingly inevitable but likely to cause problems for those workers and the city as a whole.

Their presence stuck out to me at first, but now it seems to tie in with the rest of my experience here. To do things the “proper” way is so difficult, expensive and impossible for most people, they find their own jeito, or way, whether that be building your own house on a landslide-prone hill or paying someone to get you the right papers. Somehow it all trundles along, not the way it is supposed to, and not without problems of course.


I decided against the millionaire lifestyle, or, to paraphrase Cary Grant, it decided against me. Instead, I have found a ramshackle place where I can indulge a penchant for faded glamour. Yes, that old chestnut…

With a pool outside my room and a decent location, not to mention a rent which takes cash, I think I can live with this.

It was a relief to find somewhere, once I had accepted the fact I will likely be a bit of a nomad for the next few months at least. Teaching English, while a useful way to meet folks and enjoyable in itself, is far less lucrative than journalism, so I am going to adjust the way I am dividing up my time a bit.

I am currently teaching a Naval Commander in Niteroi, the island opposite Rio. For the money he pays, it probably isn’t worth the trip by boat over the ocean, as when all is factored in I probably just make enough for a couple of “per kilo” meals only. Without spelling out what might be appealing about the job, I do it mainly because I enjoy it.

The other day, we were reading an article about the forthcoming elections in Brazil, which included a comment on “the shenanigans” that have gone on during the campaign. The shenanigans mentioned seemed to involve nothing more than the usual mudslinging during most elections, plus a bit of bargaining and compromise when it came to the selection of candidates. I had to explain to the Commander however that he shouldn’t really refer to “shenanigans” when talking about military business at a conference. I feel justified in laughing at other people’s language errors since others laughing at mine is more or less a daily occurence.

Only yesterday, I realised that the text I sent expressing my excitement at being taken to Maracana actually communicated a state of sexual arousal. Thankfully, since I am in Brazil, I do like football, but not that much.