7 prisoners

Image: Vera Nilsson


Comment on the film directed by Alexandre Moratto

The film 7 prisoners, directed by Alexandre Moratto, with impeccable performances by Rodrigo Santoro and Christian Malheiros, surprised me. The plot unfolds in a junkyard, a traditional place for recycling part of the immense amount of waste generated in cities and often used to receive materials with no proven origin. In the film, based on it, an immense network of recruitment and labor trafficking is presented to work in conditions analogous to slavery, in different branches of production. It is the type of work that “keeps the city standing”, in the words of Lucas, the character played by Rodrigo Santoro.

The film starts with all the action movie vibes and well-defined characters, where some are good and others are evil. But the script gradually leads us to the complex mechanisms of production and reproduction of labor exploitation and the hopes of the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

In order to function, this network of exploitation makes use of brute force, the revolver in the face, the punch in the stomach, the high walls, barbed wire, terror with the family, the protection of corrupt police officers and the cover of cool people from the moneyed elite. . All this makes up a sufficiently powerful scenario to intimidate its victims and build the idea that there is no way out of that iron cage of exploitation. But it is not just the use of force that sustains this gear.

When the idea of ​​lack of alternatives is internalized, the game of seduction and attempted co-option of Mateus, character played by Alexandre Moratto, until then legitimized as spokesman for the group's demands, comes into play.

At this moment, what seemed to be heading towards an action movie, gives way to a dense moral and ethical dilemma. The moral is about accepting responsibility for reproducing the violence against which he was rising up and becoming the foreman of the work network analogous to slavery that captured and subjugated him; the ethical, of adhering to the advantageous individual way out and abandoning loyalty to the companions of misfortune.

The dilemma of who we owe loyalty to is a fundamental issue in the construction of fields in society and, as history shows, its resolution has never been simple. The neoliberal hegemony, whose rationale is to combat everything that might come close to welfare policies and/or social protection, has made the resolution of this dilemma even more difficult.

Its ideologues and their pens for rent never tire of hammering home, day after day, that the logic of competition and the market must permeate all instances of life and people need to be in permanent competition with each other. As if society were an immense octagon and we were all isolated fighters, against everyone else.

Em The new reason of the world, Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, point out that neoliberalism is not just an ideology, a type of economic policy, “but a normative system that has extended its influence to the entire world, extending the logic of capital to all social relations and to all spheres of life”, operating in the very subjectivity of individuals in the sense of “social selfishness, the denial of solidarity and redistribution, which can lead to reactionary or even neo-fascist movements. We are not short of examples of how this is true.

Mateus lives an ethical and moral dilemma far removed from the neoliberal myth of individual choices made in a free environment and multiple possibilities. Without social protection policies and without effective labor protection rules, he is one more in the legion of socially, culturally and politically abandoned people, which inequality does not stop producing and the neoliberal ideology does everything to legitimize. It was Margaret Thatcher herself, in a speech that became famous, who defined the objective of neoliberalism: “change people’s hearts and souls”.

Well then. Throughout the film, I realized that a New Year had just begun and the magical promise that “everything will be different” was already being definitively eroded, while reality remained undaunted by the change in the calendar.

What can effectively change the fate of the millions of Mateus abandoned to their own fate, who are led every day to make choices without having alternatives – which is the same as having no choice – is to dismantle the dynamics of Brazilian society, all structured by immense social inequality, as Jessé Souza has demonstrated, which ends up legitimizing privileges as if they were the result of merit.

Thus, the neoliberal logic and that of the militias have many points in common. Both are nourished by the exploitation of immense inequality, which, far from being an event of nature, is an intense work of production and reproduction that never sleeps and does everything to occupy all decision-making spaces, whether through violence, co-option or electing one of yours.

In order to build possibilities for true choices, our hearts and minds need to dismantle inequalities and thus undermine the foundations of the neoliberal castle. Brick by brick.

*Gerson Almeida Master in Sociology from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).



7 prisoners
Brazil, 2021, 93 minutes.
Directed by: Alexandre Moratto.
Screenplay: Alexandre Moratto and Thayná Mantesso.
Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Christian Malheiros, Cecília Homem de Mello, Bruno Rocha, Vitor Julian, Lucas Oranmian, Dirce Thomaz.


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