Friday, October 19, 2007

BOPE: Tropa de Elite. Introduction.

The film "BOPE: Tropa de Elite" is rocking Brazil right now. Despite leaking to the internet and (more importantly) to Brazil's vast network of street DVD dealers weeks before, it hit theaters nationwide this past weekend and is breaking records.

The film's explosive success and the way it resonates with practically everybody in all corners of Brazilian society make it certain to have a profound influence on the subject it tackles: society's response to corruption, crime, and drug use.

Since BOPE's protagonists are elite Rio police who shoot drug dealers, kill for revenge, summarily execute corrupt police and freely use torture--sometimes on children--this is a very scary possibility.

The debate about the film is something the world should be involved in, so I'm going to do my best here to make that possible, both with big video files and the at-times incredible context that pops up in casual conversation and the media here. Since massive copyright infringement is largely responsible for the film's phenomenon, there's no better way to kick things off than with the torrent.

"BOPE: Tropa de Elite" .torrent with English subtitles
"BOPE: Tropa de Elite" on Google video
Tropa de Elite. English wikipedia entry

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The BOPE insignia

This is actually the insignia for a part of the Rio police department.

It looks like a biker gang in the third reich. This is the logo they have on jeeps and uniforms, and the logo for the film:

Tropa de Elite unauthorized "sequels"

Another awesome thing: on the street here you can buy BOPE "sequels" (up to "Tropa de Elite 4").

"Tropa de Elite 2" is the film "Noticias de uma Guerra Particular". A documentary that takes on the clash between police and drug gangs in Rio from a sociological perspective (in some ways, an anti- Tropa de Elite).

"Tropa de Elite 3" is a collage of videos from police operations in favelas.

"Tropa de Elite 4" is the film Qase Dois Irmaos, a drama about old friends who meet later in life: one as a senator, and the other a dealer.

And I haven't even got around to the totally unlicensed BOPE dolls yet. Waiting on a picture.

Tropa de Elite and Piracy

In a country where the minimum wage is $180 per month and the theatre costs $7, street DVD-R dealers (known here as the "camelos") are a cultural force. They're everywhere and there's something so exuberant about it; when an ad campaign against piracy launched, the cheesy ads cropped up at the beginnings of pirate DVDs within days. Just for kicks.

Entire musical genres like Tecnobrega depend on this network for distribution. Musicians make money--pretty good money--affiliating with party promoters who use the songs to market big street parties.* Banda Calypso grew out of the Tecnobrega scene into a national pop sensation; their recent release will be the first (I've heard) that they didn't themselves hand directly to a street CD duplicator as soon as it was done.

So if piracy could launch a band into superstardom, it was only a matter of time before it launched its first movie. Tropa de Elite was the movie.

A workprint leaked 8 weeks before the release from a subtitling shop that was preparing the English version (dude was later fired). The cameloes went to work, pushing the general theme "Get it now because the Policia Militar is gonna ban it!" There were some half-assed machinations to censor the movie and harass filmmakers, but even if it was only partly true, it was the perfect hook.

The strongest promotion was from word of mouth. It was like a nuclear reaction, everybody was talking about this movie. I was at a barbecue with a bunch of Policia Militar a few weeks before, and they'd all seen it, some dozens of times. If you saw the movie, you talked about it. The NY Times quotes an estimate that 11.5 million people saw the film before the release. One of the police at the barbecue told me "when this film comes out in theatres, nobody's going to watch it!".

"No way," I responded, "It is going to explode."

And it did. Broke records in the first weekend in Rio / Sao Paolo, and broke records nationwide.

We watched an interview with Padilha last week and somebody asked him about piracy. Without blinking, he fires back, "I think it's awful". Everybody in the room groans.


* Tecnobrega is like reggaeton with more of a 80s synth sound and Sun Ra's fascination with space (the DJ booths are pyrotechnic-laden spaceships that ascend on hydraulics at climactic moments during the night). Many of the songs are "homanagens" (literally, homages) about how awesome a certain promoter is. You get a lot of songs like a synthed-out version of "Crazy" by Gnarl's Barkley singing about how awesome the outfit Principe Negro ("Prince Black") is. Principe Naaaaaaaay-groo! You get the picture.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kids reenact torture scenes from Tropa de Elite

There's been a flurry of articles in the Brazilian press about kids reenacting the torture scenes from Tropa de Elite. Teachers are telling newspapers about 6-10 year olds putting plastic bags over each others heads (most of the torture scenes in the movie involve asphyxiation).

Some older kids made video reenactments and posted them to Youtube, though the original crop have been taken down at the request of the police. One of the articles makes refers to a video of a guy mock-torturing his girlfriend.

In one article (in portuguese) we get this gem:

Head of a Rio anti-torture organization: "This film preaches state violence and reinforces social fascism. The intention of the director is one thing, the effect of the work is another."

Padilha: "People make the videos they want to make. Children shouldn't be seeing a film that's prohibited for minors".

Who wins? It depends. Were we talking about censorship, or about whether the film promotes fascism?

Actual Rio de Janeiro officers give filmmakers tips on torture

Much of the movie was filmed in the favelas, so the director was often in direct or indirect contact with the drug gangs he was fictionalizing. There was some contact with the police as well. The following is a paraphrasing (not a translation) of a story the director told in a television interview.

The scene he's referring to is one where officers torture a kid who looks about 15. They think he knows where a trafficker who killed their friend is. First they threaten to throw him off a cliff, then they suffocate him with a plastic bag and beat him. When that doesn't work, they threaten to rape him with a broomstick (the director was probably aware of the NYPD Louima case though I'm sure there's some Brazilian precedent as well). At that point the kid decides to talk--hooray for fascism (in our theatre nobody cheered, but some laughed). Keep reading, it just gets more incredible.

Padilha: We were filming a torture scene and we knew officers from BOPE were in the area. We were worried they would interfere with us filming the scene.

We start filming, and sure enough a guy from BOPE approaches us, and we stop filming to talk with him thinking "ok, this is it, they're going to shut us down".

Then he walks up to where the boy is kneeling on the ground and says, "Look, you're doing this all wrong. You hold the plastic bag like this, so that it doesn't leave a mark".


Obviously, the cops knew it would make a great story for the papers... it wasn't doofy innocence or even professional pride so much as a way to saying "We know you're making this film, and we don't give a fuck."

"BOPE: Tropa de Elite" .torrent with English subtitles

Here are the torrent files for Tropa de Elite. These are based on a workprint that leaked more than two months ago from a subtitling shop. While the film's marketing made much of a supposed re-shoot of the final ten minutes, this version is mostly identical to the version in cinemas right now.

Notable things missing from the workprint:
* An opening montage featuring a funk (baile funk) verse about drugs, crime, and the police.
* 5-10 seconds of a blank white screen at the end of the film.

The scene titles in the workprint don't appear in the film.

BOPE: Tropa de Elite (torrent)
BOPE: Tropa de Elite (torrent, possibly with English subtitles already embedded, can someone verify?)
English subtitle track (.srt) on

To use the subtitle track above, get VLC, and follow these instructions.