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Brazil: A Report on Torture (1971)

While living in the exile, students and civilians share their stories about the torture and violence they suffered as victims of the Brazilian military regime.
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Credited cast:
Frei Beto ...
Jean Marc von der Weid ...
Himself (as Jean Marc van der Weid)


While living in the exile, students and civilians share their stories about the torture and violence they suffered as victims of the Brazilian military regime.

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Release Date:

21 October 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ta vasanistiria stin Vrazilia  »

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Referenced in Setenta (2013) See more »

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An unforgettable document
5 April 2013 | by (São Paulo, Brazil) – See all my reviews

A rather awkward image from this documentary presented in "Cidadão Boilesen" left me in a complete state of bewilderment which made me search and successfully find this film. The image was of a woman who was testifying about the barbaric tortures she suffered on the hands of Brazilian's police during the Military regime and while doing so she kept smiling through her whole report. Such reaction made me wonder if such documentary was being real or not, the few clips showed seemed authentic but her reaction was the one that bothered me the most. It's only watching the film you get to know the full story and understand she only smiled while commenting about the brutalities she was put through because it was just the way she communicates, her peculiarity. I'll return to her later.

"Brazil - A Report on Torture" is an American documentary directed by Haskel Wexler (known as cinematographer in films such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Matewan") and Saul Landau which details the atrocities committed by the military against civilians and students who were opposed to the dictatorship, beaten, tortured in horrific ways yet they managed to survive and tell their stories to the world. Made during the highest and most critical period of the regime in Brazil, the interviewed were gathered in Chile (2 years before a same coup hit the country) after they were exchanged for an ambassador who was kidnapped - more than 70 political prisoners were sent to exile in this trade.

Let alone with only such testimonies spoken with a certain sense of normality would be good enough to give a detailed account on how bad the dictatorship was but there's something extra to cause extreme discomfort and outrage in the audience: the victims have the chance to play their executioners, demonstrating how they were hanged upside down and beaten, or the way they received electric shocks. Sometimes they perform on themselves, other times in people who were listening to their stories. It's a re-enactment of the facts and yet they leave you disturbed for a long time. Survivors repeating everything they went through, acting like it was just something to show. They know that's the purpose, but they do it to convince, to give us an idea of what really happened behind the dungeons, contrary to what the politics and generals kept using as slogan that torture never existed during their administration. Politically engaged filmmakers, like Costa Gavras, probably used those as source to make their political films, denouncing the whole problem of South America countries at the time.

This was in 1971, the regime ended in 1985. What happened to these people? I've felt their stories, their fears and possible hopes in seeing a better nation without the violence and reprehension they dealt with, you sympathize a lot with them. And we get back to the woman whose story goes one way but her expressions tells another thing, a strange and scary paradox. And the sad part comes that most of them were no longer alive before the regime ended. Two of them, including Maria Auxiliadora Lara Barcelos, the one from the smiles, committed suicide a few years later. The most charismatic of the interviewed, Jean Marc Van der Weid, at the time president of the students union, was one of the few who survived. Another proof that the dictatorship served not only to kill on the act but also to slowly destroy lives with their acts.

Honest and revolting, "Brazil - A Report on Torture" is an important document which does more than revealing the horrifying levels of a political force but it's also about struggle, resistance, survival, hope for better days, which came but until there took away many more innocent lives. A non-distant echo that still resonates even recently: an important figure (ambassador at the time) was only granted amnesty in 2010 for the crime of showing this film in Los Angeles on a society event. I deeply admire the bravery of Wexler, Landau and his team for making such an important and bold documentary, exposing the real villains behind the coup: their nation, after all. 10/10

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