Elite Squad 2: controversy on the big screen, success with the public

By 01 August, 2011

Recently released in Brazil, Elite Squad 2 (Tropa de Elite 2) has already become the most viewed Brazilian film in the country’s recent history (since the Retomada). With more than 8 million recorded spectators last Wednesday, 3rd September, the sequel of Tropa de Elite has also become the most viewed film of 2010 in Brazil and the first national production to appear in the Top 10 of the most watched films of all time in Brazil – all the other nine being American blockbusters such as Titanic, which was the most viewed film in Brazilian history with approximately 20 million spectators.

The success of Elite Squad 2 has a reason: the first film. Tropa de Elite became an icon of Brazilian contemporary culture. The Elite Squad saga started in 2007, when the first film was released and director Jose Padilha delivered a realistic picture about Brazilian corruption and the responsibilities of all the parts involved within the country’s social-political system.

Based on a true story, Elite Squad approached many controversial subjects regarding the functioning of Brazilian society. The film mainly talks about – and shows with impressive obedience to reality – how the police act against the drug gangs that rule some of the slums of Rio.

Although the film was a major success in Brazil, the number of people that went to watch it in the cinemas was very low if compared to the sequel. However, the estimated number of total viewers is 12 million. How is this possible?

Tropa de Elite was illegally copied and distributed months before the scheduled date for its official release. Pirate copies of the film spread quickly and were available for the public in the hands of the many camelos (unlicensed street vendors) of Rio and throughout the other black markets in the main cities of Brazil. The illegal distribution of the film obliged the director Jose Padilha to anticipate the release of Tropa de Elite in the cinemas. The public, as expected, didn’t attend in large numbers.

Being copied and sold in the black market months before the official release in the cinemas, Tropa de Elite certainly didn’t give the financial return that was expected by the producers. However, the easy access to the illegal copies has made the film accessible to all Brazilians at a cheap price – at the time the price was around R$ 5 a copy whilst the average cinema ticket would cost R$ 12.

The quality of the copy that was being distributed wasn’t the best. The fundamental attraction for the public, however, was the actual content of the film, which reflects with perfection their cruel but undeniable reality. Basically, the different characters and the views on Brazilian society expressed on the film are enough to allow both the rich and the poor Brazilian to identify with the plot.

Acclaimed by the critics, Tropa de Elite received many national and international awards, including the renowned Golden Bear in the Berlin Film Festival. But the story of BOPE and Captain Nascimento didn’t end. A sequel was more than necessary. The Brazilian public was thirsty for more details about their own corrupt system and its links with the police and the criminals.

Tropa de Elite 2 continues the story of Nascimento, a captain of Rio de Janeiro’s police who has now been promoted to colonel. The role of Nascimento is played, again, by one of the most talented young Brazilian actors, Wagner Moura. Like in the first film, Nascimento narrates his own story and the story of BOPE (Batalhao de Operacoes Especiais – Unit of Special Operations of Rio de Janeiro’s police). However, battling against the criminals isn’t one of Nascimento’s main duties this time.

Although police incursions in the favelas, gun fights and violence are still present in the sequel, the main difference between Tropa de Elite 2 and its prequel is that it goes deeper to illustrate the relations between the State and the police.

Nascimento’s promotion brings him a new set of problems. Being a colonel of BOPE, his role is more administrative and strategic, and the film shows how he turned from being the violent battling captain of the first film to become a heroic police bureaucrat who stumbles into the city’s brutal mafia and has to negotiate with the “big fish” of the status quo.

For those who are not familiar with Brazilian politics and Rio de Janeiro’s social reality, the film is an exhilarating ride through the city’s prison system, its favelas, hospitals and streets. Moreover, Tropa de Elite 2 cuts dangerously close to the bone when it shows a real political scandal that happened in Rio a few years ago. Two of the cast are clearly representing majorly important local politicians, who were involved in corruption.

Not since City of God has a Brazilian film excited such debate as Elite Squad. Cidade de Deus showed the birth and growth of the drug gangs in the slums. Conversely, the saga of Tropa de Elite tells the other side of the story: the reality and modus operandi of Rio’s Military Police (PM – ordinary police in Brazil) and BOPE.

On top of everything, the film addresses an important message for Brazilian society and the international public in general, that corruption has always been and still is an endemic problem in Brazil. This corruption comes to the spotlight in Tropa de Elite, especially in the sequel. And it is portrayed so perfectly that it makes all the viewers reflect upon the advantages and disadvantages of having a corrupt police.

Corruption also acted against Tropa de Elite producers themselves as the first film was illegally copied and distributed, then sold to the public before it hit the cinemas. However, it has to be said that the cheap pirate copy of the film may have been one of the reasons that the Tropa de Elite experience was so popular. It became common to hear people using slang from the film (such as “pede pra sair” or “ask to leave”, a sentence often yelled by captain Nascimento in Tropa de Elite during the savage BOPE training course).

Ironic it is then, that the illegal distribution of Tropa de Elite may have served as a trigger to the success of Tropa de Elite 2. It’s not difficult to imagine that if the first film hadn’t been illegally copied and distributed, the sequel wouldn’t have attracted so many people to the cinemas. Thus, knowing that even Tropa de Elite, a film that shows the fight against corruption, has indirectly “taken advantage” from illegality, the same question addressed by the film to the audience, could be asked back to the film producers: can Brazil succeed without corruption or have we all learned and accepted to live with it?

Official trailer of Tropa de Elite 2 with English subtitles:

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