Torturers and tortured

Image: Marco Buti


State violence in two recent Brazilian films - "Pastor Claudio e "Seven years in May”


State violence is one of the hallmarks of Brazil's historical formation, rooted in a colonial experience based on the binomial “slavery of blacks/genocide of indigenous peoples” and accompanying the country's itinerary after its political independence. Torture and extermination are two of its most widespread technologies, which span the ages and define, in the XNUMXst century, one of the basic standards of relationship between the repressive state apparatus and poor populations.

At different times, modern Brazilian cinema thematized episodes in which torture and extermination were applied against political groups in opposition to the 1964 military regime, common criminals or the population in general. Directly thematizing the ongoing violence of the police apparatus against opposition groups, already indirectly alluded to in The Case of the Naves Brothers (Luiz Sérgio Person, 1967, inspired by a miscarriage of justice that occurred in 1937), a series of films located on the border between new cinema and the so-called marginal cinema,[I] at the end of the 60s, brought scenes of torture or execution of political prisoners, of war gardens (Neville de Almeida, 1968), Bla bla bla (Andrea Tonacci, 1968), The Temporary Life (Maurício Gomes Leite, 1968) and gray morning (Olney São Paulo, 1969) to Killed the Family and went to the movies (Júlio Bressane, 1970), Hitler 3oWorld (José Agrippino de Paula, 1970) and Palomares silver (André Faria Jr., 1970).

Documentaries from these and subsequent years, made in Brazil or abroad, also faced the issue of torture during the dictatorship, of On your parle du Brésil: tortures (Chris Marker, France, 1969), It's not time to cry (Luiz Alberto Sanz and Pedro Chaskel, Chile, 1973) and Brazil: a Report on Torture (Saul Landau and Haskell Wexler, Chile, 1973) to fundamental You can also give a cool ham (Sérgio Muniz, 1974) and the 76 years old, Gregório Bezerra, communist (Luiz Alberto Sanz, Sweden, 1978). In another vein and with less convincing results, a certain genre cinema also addressed, in its own way, torture and executions by the police apparatus, in pornochanchada And now Jose? (The torture of sex) (Ody Fraga, 1979), but mainly in the vein of the political detective film, which includes Lúcio Flávio, the passenger of agony (Hector Babenco, 1977), I killed Lucius Flavius (Antonio Calmon, 1979), The Torturer (Antonio Calmon, 1980) and Forward Brazil (Roberto Farias, 1982), feature films whose proposal has been updated more recently in market successes such as City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund, 2002), inspired by the homonymous novel by Paulo Lins, whose aesthetic density does not, however, match, and Tropa de Elite (José Padilha, 2007).

In the 1980s, some of the best Brazilian films returned to the problem of torture and extermination, alluded to in Paraguayan Nights (Aloysio Raulino, 1982), reported in Goat Marked for Death (Eduardo Coutinho, 1964/84) and It's good to see you alive (Lúcia Murat, 1989), attested in Resurrection (Arthur Omar, 1989). Since the turn of the century, this universe has been explored in films with varied strategies and results, in a broad spectrum ranging from Citizen Boilesen (Chaim Litewski, 2009) Martyrdom (Vincent Carelli, 2016), going through Identification Pictures (Anita Leandro, 2014), The days with him (Maria Clara Escobar, 2012) and Orestes (Rodrigo Siqueira, 2015), among others.

As can be seen in this summary list, the filmography of this universe in Brazil is quite varied and it would be beyond our scope to list it here in detail. More circumscribed, our purpose in the notes that follow is to bring together two recent Brazilian films, which approach, from different points of view, the serious problem of State violence and the trivialization of methods of kidnapping, torture and extermination of people in Brazil, by the police.

The first movie, Pastor Claudio (2017, 75 min), by Beth Formaggini, is organized around the speech of a former police chief, Claudio Guerra, a self-confessed SNI killer, in charge of the execution and disappearance of political prisoners during the military dictatorship established in Brazil from 1964.

The second movie, seven years in may (2019, 42 min), by Affonso Uchôa, equally focused on the testimony of a single character, exposes the perpetuation of state violence today, in the voice of a young man from the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, Rafael dos Santos Rocha, tortured and persecuted by eight police officers in 2007 on trumped-up drug trafficking charges.

These are two exemplary works for discussing the filming of live speech and the contribution of cinema to clarifying obscure areas of recent Brazilian political history. On the one hand, we have the speech of an executioner of the military dictatorship, an agent of the State, in charge of killing, awarded for services rendered to the repressive apparatus and, today, converted to evangelism, without having gone through any kind of trial. Like several other agents of repression, Guerra lives today under the protection of the veil of silence that has covered, since the end of the military dictatorship, the crimes of torture, murder and disappearance of political prisoners, perpetrated by police and military.

On the other hand, we have the speech of a victim of torture today, a poor black young man, kidnapped and tortured for several hours by men from the military police, in one of their routine extortion operations against residents of favelas and peripheral neighborhoods – widely publicized by the Brazilian press in recent years. besides the Raccord of content that unites these two films, whose narratives expose a historical continuity in the transmission of technologies of violence in Brazil, we are interested, above all, in the forms of history produced by them, in the approach of testimony.

A political gesture common to both films is the designation, in both, of a mediating instance for the elaboration of the speech of their respective characters, at the time of filming. In both cases, the testimony will be organized outside the traditional interview system, supported, as is known, by questions and answers. Here, on the contrary, the testimony comes from a confrontation between the filmed person and an exteriority: in Pastor Claudio, the face-to-face meeting with a psychologist and the projection, on a screen, of photos of Claudio Guerra's victims; is at seven years in may, the use of writing as a condition of possibility for returning to a traumatic experience, with a view to preparing a testimony. Cláudio Guerra reacts to the images shown to him and Rafael dos Santos Rocha builds his narrative based on a long preparation, together with the director.

The two films develop, each in their own way, strategies of resistance to the occupation of the speaking space by a discourse of power. A staging of Beth Formaggini needed to face the calculated, ambiguous and long-prepared report by Cláudio Guerra, who, long before filming, had already published a memoir with the help of two journalists and presented himself before the National Truth Commission, raising opposing reactions and denials.

Affonso Uchoa, in turn, had to film the naked and fragile speech of Rafael dos Santos, avoiding the risk of a self-pitying account that, even if endorsed by the good intentions of an engaged cinema, would not have gone beyond exposing the character's fragility and appeasement of the spectator's good conscience. Thus, the construction of a script of his speech, written by four hands, will be, for Rafael dos Santos, a means of breaking with a long silence imposed by fear and the traumatic experience. Likewise, the intervention of images on the film set tends to disarm Claudio Guerra and create gaps in his armored narrative, which will happen in the rare moments of carelessness of the policeman, in front of the screen. It is these instances of speech mediation that we will deal with here.

There was, in both films, and for different reasons, the double risk of bypassing the testimony and endorsing, with the filming, reports that were as predictable as they were undesirable, dictated by the conditioning, whether of the killer or the victim of torture, to their respective experiences. Cláudio Guerra could repeat, once again, the cold and, for many, questionable speech of his book, which he, effectively, will do, in several moments of the film, despite the intelligence of the listening device created by Beth Formaggini.

Likewise, Rafael dos Santos, whose testimony had never entered the public sphere, might not be able to overcome the trauma and remain silent or, worse, expose himself, vulnerable, in the foreground and without any backup, when denouncing his tormentors. In both cases, it was necessary to protect the filmed speech, whether from arrogance or self-pity, and the construction of a device different from that of the classic interview is what will ensure, with greater or lesser effectiveness, depending on the situation filmed, the possibility of a true testimony, understood here as a speech capable of interfering in the processes of elaboration of a collective memory about police violence in Brazil.

Pastor Claudio

After an informative poster on human rights violations committed by State agents during the military dictatorship, such as torture, deaths, disappearances and concealment of corpses, still on the black screen, a man's voice addresses his interlocutor: "Mr. it was a police chief, a state agent and you are a pastor... Cláudio, how would you like me to address you?”. The person to whom the question is directed responds that he is proud to be a pastor and that he prefers to be called that. This brief dialogue between Claudio Guerra, SNI agent during the dictatorship, today an evangelical pastor, and Eduardo Passos, psychologist and human rights activist, with the Tortura Nunca Mais group, opens Beth Formaggini's film, as a kind of moral contract for footage of a tense face-to-face between these two men, which will last four hours.

Hitman and member of Scuderie Le Cocq, a clandestine group of killers working for the dictatorship, created in Rio de Janeiro, Claudio Antônio Guerra joined the civil police in 1971, as a district delegate in Espírito Santo, one of the most violent regions in Brazil and with the greatest penetration of death squads . That year, roughly speaking, the press reported eight thousand murders perpetrated by death squads throughout Brazil, in just four years of activity by these criminal organizations. In Rio de Janeiro alone, at the time, around 500 corpses were found each year, floating in rivers or in vacant lots, with the signature of squadrons, not to mention an incalculable number of missing persons. Indicated by a colonel, who introduced him as “someone who knew how to work…”, that is, “chasing and killing bandits”, as he himself will tell in the film, Guerra became a clandestine agent for the SNI and, later, head of security game, being excluded from the civil police in 1990.

Eduardo Passos comes from a long work in the field of human rights, started with the group Tortura Nunca Mais, in assisting people who suffered violence from the State, not only those who were victims of the dictatorship, but also family members of poor and black youths, still today persecuted and murdered by the police. Beth Formaggini's previous film about the dictatorship, Memories for everyday use (2007), was made with him, at an invitation from Eduardo himself. But even with this personal baggage, for the meeting with Guerra, the psychologist prepared for a year alongside the director and the first editor of the film, Márcia Medeiros. Together, they read several books about dictatorship and state violence, watched testimonies by agents of repression in the Truth Commission and also the films in which filmmaker Rithy Panh confronts the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide, in particular Duch, the master of the forges of hell (France, 2011).

Beth Formaggini, a historian by training, was aware of the risks of facing, for the first time in a Brazilian documentary, an avowed killer of the dictatorship, a man who knew too much, but who seemed to hide a lot to save his skin, a strategy noticeable both in her long published interview in book,[ii] and in his three testimonies to the Truth Commission (two to CNV and one to CVSP).[iii] In the same way as the director, Eduardo Passos, with his clinical experience, was fully aware of what it meant, for him, to act with a murderer, positioning himself, in front of him, not as an interviewer who sees the event filmed from the outside, the starting from the off-screen, but like a character in the film, that of a psychologist directly concerned by the speech of the other and who, although he had an agenda of questions, would work with complete autonomy to get out of it, if necessary.

Guerra was filmed by Beth Formaggini in Vitória, on April 1, 2015, the 51st anniversary of the 64 coup, in a photography studio previously prepared for this purpose, but whose address, for security reasons, would be kept secret and revealed Guerra and the team itself only a little before filming, due to the death threats hanging over the former police officer at that time. Beth Formaggini feared an “archive burning”, as two reserve colonels involved in the disappearance of former deputy Rubens Paiva had already been murdered shortly before filming, under mysterious circumstances.[iv] Perhaps fearing undesirable consequences for his speech, Guerra asked to be called a “pastor” and to be filmed with the bible, which he holds throughout the entire film.

The scene is a neutral, closed and silent space, protected from any external intervention. Guerra's own wife waited outside. The lighting prioritizes the faces of the two characters and the darkness around them isolates them in a dark and timeless space, completely empty, conducive to concentration. At the same time, the black background that surrounds them is regularly filled with light from a projection of images that punctuate the entire conversation, producing interruptions, continuities, shocks and overlaps in the ex-policeman's account. A single scenic space thus unfolds into a psychoanalytical office and a history laboratory, according to the framework used. Four cameras on tripods cover the filmed event, with shots of predetermined width: two of them work in close-up, framing the face of each character; the third, in medium shot, shows Guerra and the screen; and the fourth, in an open plan, at the back of the studio, includes the two characters and the projection screen.

From the beginning of the film, the medium shot shows Guerra's confrontation with the images of his victims and, also, the projection of these same images onto the body of the former police officer, who remains seated almost the entire time. In addition, the lighting thrown over him projects the shadow of his body onto the screen, which, in turn, focuses on the image of his victims. The scenic device of the film thus establishes a systematic interaction between War and the dead of the dictatorship, in addition to a punctual coexistence between the body of the former police officer (or his projected shadow) and that of other agents of repression, such as Colonel Malhães or Sergeant Marival Chaves, whose testimonies to the CNV are also projected on the screen, or even that of relatives of the victims, such as Ivanilda Veloso, widow of the disappeared Itair José Veloso.[v] Thus, while talking to the psychologist Eduardo Passos, Guerra plays with his own past.

The insistence of staging in this complex procedure of visual interaction between the executioner and his victims, projecting the images of the latter onto the body of the former, he establishes a kind of “figurative confrontation”: on the one hand, it is as if Guerra had, in the scene, to render accounts to the people who killed, get along with them, lie before them; on the other hand, his shadow projected over the images on the screen seems to be there to watch, without being seen, the unexpected return of those dead to the political scene, to ask for justice and reparation. As in a final investigation, the Mabusean shadow of the agent of repression lurks, threatening and sneaky, the civilizing effort of civil society and the movement in Dilma Roussef's government to finally achieve historical justice in Brazil.

Beth Formaggini, who launched the projections throughout the filming, attentive to the progress of the conversation between Guerra and Passos, selected several archive images and prepared 34 boards for this purpose, related to the issues to be addressed. In addition to photographs of executed or disappeared prisoners, the boards contain audiovisual recordings of testimonies by CNV repression agents; the video of Guerra's visit, accompanied by representatives of the CNV, to the Cambahyba plant, where the bodies of dead militants were incinerated; and excerpts from the already mentioned film by Formaggini, Memory for everyday use.

All this material, before reaching the projection screen, is reflected on Guerra's head and back, incidentally, dressed in a white shirt, the same color as the screen. As the light comes from behind him, positioned in front of the screen, Guerra does not seem to realize that his body is also serving as a reflecting surface. Access to this second projection surface is the spectator's privilege. And what we see, with this projection on Guerra's skin, hair and clothes, while, unaware, he discovers the images of his victims, is a duplication of the historical reason for the appearance of the dead in the filmed scene: on the screen, the images have the role of making Guerra face the return of repressed memories; projected onto his body, these same images now produce roughness on the smooth surface of a murderer without trial, unpunished, disguised as a repentant shepherd [Fig. 1].

Images of assassinated opponents cover Guerra's “converted” face and weigh on his shoulder.

There were many questions to ask and many images to show Claudio Guerra, which seems, at times, to leave him a little dazed and even indifferent in relation to the tragic fate of his victims. But one of these images will produce a certain shock in this character's stony face: it is the photo of Nestor Vera, a member of the PCB central committee and peasant leader, arrested and barbarously tortured in the police station for thefts and robberies in Belo Horizonte, a clandestine torture center and extermination, equipped by the Scuderie Le Cocq. Vera's photo appears right on the first projected photo board, at the beginning of the film. On this board, we see the faces of 19 members of the central committee of the Brazilian Communist Party [Fig. 2], murdered by repression agencies between 1973 and 1975, in Operation Radar.[vi] Among them, Nestor Vera, at the top right, whom Claudio Guerra points to with his index finger and immediately identifies – “He was executed by me” – before moving on to identify other prisoners, whose bodies were handed over to him for him to make. to vanish.

Guerra points to the portrait of Nestor Vera (second from left, top), while his shadow points to another murdered opponent.

In charge of executing Nestor Vera, Guerra will tell, in a later sequence, that he found him almost dead on the macaw tree, and took him to a forest, near Itabira, where he shot him in the head and buried him. Guerra remembers that Vera was very hurt and says, apparently affected by this memory, according to him a milestone in his life, comparable to what would have happened to Paulo, a Roman Pharisee who the New Testament presents as a persecutor of Jesus' disciples, converted to Christianity after a mystical experience: “that moment was what shocked me the most, because he was already almost dead […] it was a coup de grace, which I gave with pity”. After a long silence and with an air of resignation, feeling the bible on his lap, Guerra accepts, at Eduardo Passos' request, to reproduce the gesture of Vera's execution, made one meter away from the victim.

Vera's execution is staged in front of the white screen. For the first time, Guerra is standing and the only image now projected is that of his black shadow, cut out on the white and empty surface of the screen. Framed in an American shot, he places his bible on the chair and, holding an imaginary revolver, points his cocked gun at the ground, that is, at the off-field, where Vera is found, dying, fallen or on her knees, he has already don't remember well. Chosen to compose the film's poster, this scene condenses all the efforts of Pastor Claudio in producing an image of the disappeared during the dictatorship.

By reproducing the gesture of execution, incidentally, trivialized in the last two years by the current president of Brazil and his supporters, Guerra inscribes in the scene an image of the past of a nature different from that coming from the projected boards. Now she is no longer the director of the film, at her work station, which launches the documents on the screen. It is the murderer himself who, by re-enacting his crime, projects an image of his victim into the spectator's consciousness. [Fig. 3].

Guerra simulates the execution of Nestor Vera (in a gesture that will reappear in Jair Bolsonaro's campaign).

Even if invisible, since it is immaterial, only indicated in the off-screen, this new image has a confessional character, as it is born from the very performance de Guerra, by assuming, in the act of reconstituting the facts, his homicidal gesture. But this shot still produces a second revelation: that this violence, so to speak, now “official” by state agents duly recognized and captured by historiographical efforts (such as Claudio Guerra, identifiable in the foreground) is duplicated in another, of faceless agents (often the same ones), who act in the shadows, below public identification, against equally anonymous victims. In its very composition, the image thus seems to affirm the inseparability of the two killings, their intimate connection, like that which unites a body to its shadow. By anticipating the gesture that marked Jair Bolsonaro's entire presidential campaign (the one with both hands pointed like a weapon), Guerra also helps to form, without realizing it, a kind of ideogram of the Brazilian civilizational impasse, under the aegis of extreme right.

Throughout the entire film, Eduardo Passos punctuates Guerra's speech, catches him in contradiction, re-raises questions that were left unanswered, trying to extract from him information that may contribute to clarifying cases of torture, death and disappearance of PCB members. . The psychologist's sufficiently attentive and well-informed listening brings to light this and other facts ranging from 1973 to the political opening, such as the murders of Zuzu Angel and Vladmir Herzog and the right-wing terrorist attacks against the OAB and Rio Centro.[vii] But the conversation between the two focuses, above all, on Guerra's connection with the Casa da Morte in Petrópolis, the extermination center for which he worked, in charge of the disappearance of bodies of prisoners tortured and executed by the team of Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Perdigão.[viii].

When going through, one by one, the 19 photographs of the members of the PCB central committee, Guerra says that he executed seven of them and incinerated at least 12 bodies of people from that group, at the Cambahyba plant, in Campos de Goytacazes, a company owned by the deputy -bionic governor of Rio de Janeiro between 1967 and 1971, Heli Ribeiro, founder of the TFP in the region.[ix]According to Guerra's account, the corpse incineration operations were, like all clandestine operations, carried out in the dead of night and accompanied by Heli Ribeiro's son, João Lisandro, a police informant known as “João Bala”.

The mill ceded the ovens to the repression and, in exchange, the police sabotaged the cane fields of the mill owner's competitors and armed the region's farmers with state-of-the-art Army arsenal.[X] In addition to corporate participation in the extermination, Guerra denounces the presence of state prosecutors in the preparation of executions, carried out in their offices. He also talks about the SNI's connections with the Esquadrão da Morte, Mossad agents and the DEA-Department of American State.

There are, without a doubt, serious accusations in Claudio Guerra's account for the film. And even when contested by the testimony of other witnesses to the CNV, such as Malhães or even Sergeant Marival Chaves, from São Paulo, Guerra's account opens the way, as he himself says, for other investigations. But, perhaps, for having given, a few months before, his testimony to the CNV, when he cried, telling how he became a killer of the State, when participating, at the behest of a delegate, in a slaughter of 40 landless people, in Minas Gerais, Guerra now shows almost no reaction to the images projected on the screen, or to the psychologist who is interviewing him.

“He doesn't express any feelings of guilt because he's on a mission. He was on a mission when his superiors were the military of the coup and he now becomes an agent of another mission, which is the evangelical mission, with another leader, God, who summons him to narrate, to tell. So, he is completely free to tell, he tells in detail and with the coldness of someone who is on a divine mission. (...) Evil was trivialized because it was financed by an entire system”. (Horta, 2018).[xi]

Even though Passos, having an agenda of questions to ask Guerra, interrupts him at times, he is someone who, by virtue of his profession, has fully mastered the art of listening and knows how to help others to do something of what they want. he says, giving him his own words back. He catches Guerra committing lapses of language, for example, when he states, three times in a row, that he is persecuted “by the right”, when he meant “by the left”. The psychologist promptly asks him: “But wouldn't you also feel persecuted by the right?”, to which Guerra responded positively.

In one of the most important denunciations of the film, due to its disturbing relevance, Guerra, always wielding the bible, tells how, after the dictatorship, the torturers and killers changed their field and enriched themselves with benefits that, in his case, lasted until 2005: “We kept winning. Only, instead of working to eliminate people who opposed the military regime, we went to work in public security to guarantee the status quo. Today, the same system that tortures, kills, disappears people, is financed by the same elite that financed it during the dictatorship [...] made by members of the past, the Brotherhood, which is still active today. […] The first security companies in Rio are owned by former generals. […] Why doesn't the torture end? There was no punishment for anyone. It continues inside prisons, barracks, police stations, against the poor and black people”.[xii]

With the political opening, Guerra became head of security at the Jogo do Bicho, at the time of Castor de Andrade, and bought farms, according to him, thanks to the Brotherhood, made up of representatives of the Brazilian elites, mostly Freemasons, who financed groups secret and that would continue, even today, according to the former agent, to meet, to organize. “It's the extreme right, really”, he says, as if warning us of something serious that was to come at the time of filming. And it was. Soon after that came the coup against President Dilma Roussef, the arrest without evidence of former President Lula, the fraudulent election of an extreme right-wing candidate and the rigging of executive power by the military. Today, in a political scene as unstable as it is disturbing, the technologies of violence used by Guerra in the recent past continue to be increasingly applied against poor populations, in a preventive and systematic way.

Hannah Arendt, whose book about the violence served as a reference for Beth Formaggini and her team for the preparation of the filming, alerting, as early as 1968, to the fact that “neither violence nor power are natural phenomena, that is, the manifestation of a vital process; they belong to the political realm of human affairs, whose essentially human quality is guaranteed by man's faculty to act, the ability to start over” (1994, p. 61). The testimony of Claudio Guerra, even if it is incomplete, deliberately evasive and, if not a lie, at least omitted, in some respects, has the merit of confirming historical evidence about Brazil, when he affirms, in his own words, that the dictatorship is not over and by warning, as early as 2015 (without our being able to assess the extent to which he knew what he was saying), that the extreme right was preparing, in the shadows, to return to the center of the political scene.

seven years in may

On the black canvas, appears the dedication “To the Black, who died too soon”, followed by the initial image of a lonely street in a dark night. There, a man walks alone, with a weary step, in the middle of the asphalt, towards the camera that retreats at the same pace, to frame him from the front, in a medium shot. On the banks of the street, we glimpse a thicket. There are no sidewalks or buildings there, and the streetlights fall behind him as he walks along, his body almost melting into the darkness. At a short interval, a car and a motorbike cross, quickly, our man, going in the opposite direction and quickly disappearing in the background of the frame. For now, the relationship between this figure that advances in the dark and the sparsely urbanized landscape that surrounds it suggests a situation of vulnerability and lack of protection, of someone at the mercy of some danger.

Cut dry to another place, also at night, lit by a lantern. It's a vacant lot with fires (of which we know nothing) in the background. There, a group of four young people open a suitcase full of police objects: a revolver, uniforms, boots, gloves, caps, steel chains with locks for the neck and other instruments of torture. Excited, one of them says: "I've always dreamed of wearing an outfit like that". They laugh, they make jokes, they say the material is “100% militia”.

It didn't take us long to realize that they were preparing to stage a “mission”, which consisted of a violent police approach to another young man. This one says his name is Rafael dos Santos Rocha, and is accused of hiding drugs in his house, amidst threats from the police, who force him to lie down and point a gun at his head. We are facing a violent approach followed by kidnapping, which foreshadows an open-air torture session, at this moment still psychological (“I'm going to blow your head off”). Rafael denies involvement with drugs, cries, the police make fun of him and take him away. One of them announces: “today you will meet the macaw stick”. Another tells him that they are going to a place “where the son cries and the mother does not see it”, while the four lead him out of that lot.

In a sudden ellipse, we now see the same Rafael, always at night, walking alone down the street, with the lights of the houses in a neighborhood in the background. His slow pace and the way his body looks lead us to understand that he was the figure already mentioned in the initial shot of the film. Now, in a scene observed at a certain distance from the camera, he approaches an empty electricity substation, where he wanders slowly, as if that place left him thoughtful.

At 10 minutes into the film, not far from that substation that we can still see in the background, Rafael begins to recount in a new nocturnal scene what happened to him years before. Filmed in an American shot, at the foot of a fire that he feeds with sticks, he takes some time before starting a monologue: “In 2007, I was mistaken for a drug dealer”. This plan with the narration of his story extends for 17 minutes, without cuts, as in a testimonial, which is worth summarizing.

One night in May, seven years earlier, when Rafael opened the gate of his house after a day at work, he was approached by eight police officers coming in two vehicles, with a supposed complaint that he had buried a kilo of marijuana in the backyard. After digging up the whole backyard, searching the house, breaking furniture and emptying cans of groceries, they put him in a car, threw pepper spray in his face and kidnapped him, taking him to the vicinity of the Cemig substation (the same one that we see in the background), where they tortured him savagely for several hours.

As the blood on Rafael's face forced the police to change the hood they put on him several times, they took the opportunity to spray pepper spray inside the bags. After several fainting spells, caused by kicks, punches, suffocation and hanging, he was thrown to the ground and had his hood removed. A policeman knelt over his chest, shoved two revolvers into his mouth, slicing him inside and out. Then they took him by the legs and gave him more than fifty blows with a truncheon on the sole of each foot, until water bubbles were produced. With a lighter, they burned its back, until other bubbles formed and burst, in one of which they buried the object, before throwing it again on the ground, to be run over.

When the car started to climb on his legs, a policeman suggested that they kill him right away. He was dragged to his knees near a wall and a policeman shaved his head with a knife, showing him a revolver. “You are going to die now,” he said. Rafael closed his eyes and heard four shots. “I felt the earth hitting my face… and everything was silent. For me, I was already dead. That's when I heard the door slamming." When he opened his eyes, he heard a policeman say: “Yeah, Rafael… We're going to your house on Friday. We want R$5 in crack, R$5 in cocaine and R$5 in cash. Do it your way”.

Threatened with death by his torturers, he had to flee to São Paulo, where he lived in various places, started using drugs, worked at a car repair shop, was arrested for doing so and left after paying the police chief R$30 by his boss. Back in BH, he ended up living on the street and diving into crack, until he managed to return to his mother's house. “Every time I lay down on a sidewalk to sleep, that same thing always came to my mind: I heard car doors slamming and the police radio… 'He's the one who's there! Let's go! We `ll kill him!' It never left my mind. To this day, when I go to bed, I hear it.”

At the end of this long monologue in which he tells his story, we discover in reverse shot that Rafael has an interlocutor, until then off-screen, a fictional character, young, poor and black, like himself. The young man tells Rafael that his story is a sad one, similar to his and to many other people he has met: “I've been through so much, that almost every story I hear is similar to mine”. From then on, for six minutes, we witness a fictional dialogue between the two, about justice, injustice, indifference, collaboration, fear... Rafael says that the faces of his torturers do not disappear from his mind and wonders if the police would remember them too . “I don't think so… For them, we are all the same”, says the friend.

Rafael's mother advised him to forget what happened. "If I forgot, it was as if they had completed their job." Rafael can't forget. “Coming back, for me, here, in this place, is like going back in time. As if that day would never cease to exist.” At the edge of the fire, Rafael's friend tells him that the marks of his feet and his blood are still visible on the asphalt, his own and those of several others who died. Like the angel in Benjamin's story (1985), he sees himself surrounded by a pile of the dead, which does not stop growing, which comes from before their birth and which has already covered the sky, producing the darkness that, at that moment, involves both. “But there is no night that lasts forever. We have to move forward. For us and for them too.” As the young man says this, we see Rafael's face, silent.

Suddenly, we begin to hear distant footsteps, which announce the next scene, in which the feet of a marching crowd, clad in flip-flops or sneakers, invade the screen. She makes the transition to the final scene of the film, a game of “dead/alive”, coordinated in a square by an armed policeman, in which about fifty young men and women (including Rafael) participate. When the officer shouts “dead”, they must crouch down, and when he shouts “alive”, they must get up. The orders are given by the police officer in an authoritative tone and in varied rhythms, in order to confuse the participants. Those who make mistakes, leave the game. In the end, only Rafael remains, who, at the reiterated order of “dead” by the instructor, remains standing, alone, in the middle of the deserted square, just as he appeared at the beginning of the film, but now impassive.

Composed of only five sequences (3 longer, alternating with 2 short shots), the film presents a cohesive iconography: it was all shot outdoors, in open spaces in the region of the Nacional neighborhood in Contagem (outskirts of BH), and always at night . Its decoupage features two ellipses: 1) between the initial walk and the sequence of the police approach with the beginning of the kidnapping; 2) between this second sequence and the one that follows it, showing another walk by Rafael around the power substation, as if he had escaped the kidnapping or if there was a bigger time jump. Rafael's account, however, in the fourth sequence (the longest in the film, at 24') retrospectively reorganizes what we have already seen, neutralizing the jump in the ellipses and giving narrative continuity to the previous sequences: the 1a it showed Raphael before torture; to 2a, on the occasion of his kidnapping; and the 3a, after his return from São Paulo.

After the story and the dialogue that follows it, by the fire, the final sequence of Rafael with the group of young people in the game of living dead projects the protagonist into that future envisioned by his interlocutor, who, after talking about a growing pile of those killed by the violence (so high that it already covered the sky, leaving everything dark), he concluded with hope: “But there is no night that lasts forever, no; we have to move forward, for us and for them too”. Inhabited by what has just been said, the brief shot of the young people going up a street and the final game of the undead produce the echo of this moving forward, in an opening to the future of the character and his community.

The entire film follows, therefore, Rafael, before the torture, at the moment when it begins – after his return from São Paulo – in the account of his experience and in a projection of his future life. Summed up in this narrative path, Rafael's destiny guarantees the dramaturgical cohesion of the film, which doubles its iconographic cohesion and its narrative cohesion. These cohesions do not, however, cancel out a certain discontinuity, a certain stylistic heterogeneity, perceptible in the meeting of the five sequences of very different registers, which go from sober shots of Rafael walking to a playful re-enactment (of the police approach and the kidnapping), from this to an almost documentary, in a serious tone, followed by a fictional dialogue and a game scene that allegorizes the phenomenon of the genocide of the poor and black people in Brazil today.

In fact, the scene of the story and the dialogue appears to us as the heart of the film, capable of organizing its entire flow, guaranteeing the victory of cohesion over dispersion, both in its narrative structure and in the experience of the character himself, picking up the pieces. of his life almost shattered by the trauma of the violence suffered. In Rafael's biographical itinerary that the film lays out, it is his story that allows him to survive psychically: not by chance, he is the only young man who does not allow himself to be excluded from the game of the living dead, remaining alive even in the face of the policeman's order to let it die. If he is the only survivor of that staged genocide, it is because he no longer internalizes the obedience imposed by the state of exception, exorcised, in a way, by his testimony elaborated by the fire. Relating his experience, Rafael overcame the violence he suffered and was able to resist the death ordered by the police. The others, who did not speak, succumb.

“Can we die from saying?”. Formulated in another context by the psychoanalyst Rachel Rosenblum (2000/1) regarding the literary testimony of survivors of concentration and extermination camps, such as Primo Levi and Sarah Kofman, who committed suicide after writing autobiographical books, this serious question resonates almost like a sentence among young black and poor Brazilians, conditioned by State terrorism to the fear of saying, under penalty of being executed, arrested or disappeared. By remaining silent, Rafael dos Santos Rocha would certainly have been swallowed up by the prevailing segregationism. By overcoming the fear of speaking and saying “no” to the racist condemnation that haunts the periphery where he comes from, he creates the possibility of continuing to live, against all the contrary expectations of his “internal enemy”, the State.[xiii] His story allows him to conquer his citizenship and organize his experience, which ran the risk of being destroyed by the brutality of the violence suffered and its train of disastrous effects.

This translates into a true figurative inflection: at the beginning, Rafael is nothing more than a figure in a dark street, on the edge of a thicket, without a face, name or voice [Fig. 4], mere vulnerable body (or killable, as Agamben would say)[xiv], at the mercy of some incident, which soon supervenes in the second sequence, in the form of police violence. In the end, after partially re-enacting the violence suffered, returning to the place where it was consumed [Fig. 5] and to elaborate it in the report to the friend and the camera [Fig. 6], he regains his body, face, voice, authority over his story and determination not to give in to the death ordered by the police [Fig. 7], as if the exercise of this story had freed him, in the final confrontation with the agent of violence (which that policeman embodies), introjected obedience and the vicious circle of submission.[xv]

Rafael, in the initial plan, as a killable figure. Afterwards, revisiting the site of the violence suffered, …
…reassuming its face, its voice and its history… until it won, almost a citizen, the public square in the end.

Or as if his account allowed him to testify in place of the thousands of young people killed every year at the hands of the Brazilian police, the pile of murders referred to by the interlocutor, which the participants of the final game in a certain way represent (as they were being killed, one by one , under the orders of the police). Thus, the “dissonant, untamed voices” (Ginzburg, 2007, p. 9) of so many people ignored by traditional historiography, resound in Raphael's testimony. Among them, Preto, his older brother (shot dead in front of the house) to whom the film is dedicated, and who, like a legion of other blacks, “died too soon”.

As we have seen, Rafael's itinerary throughout the film is that of a man who can be killed who becomes the subject of his destiny through his account of the violence he suffered, capable of recomposing his experience in the public sphere. It is very significant that in the course of the film his body comes out of the shadows (seq. 1) and assumes in the public square his refusal of the death ordered by the police (seq. 5). The public square in the final scenario is the political Agora, it is the emblematic space of the polis. Thus, from a truncated life experience, condemned to the dispersion of anonymous suffering and without official record,[xvi] the film catches a glimpse of the irruption of a subject in the political agora, a glimpse of the political transformation of a shadow into a citizen endowed with a face, voice, history and self-determination in the face of the agent of naturalized violence.

Anyway, what staging of the film does not allow us to forget, in this nocturnal ending, is that this envisioned conquest of citizenship still has a long way to go until it asserts itself in broad daylight – that is, until the sunlight is no longer covered by a pile of victims of state violence. Between the glimpse of this achievement – ​​realized in an act by Rafael – and the awareness of the difficulties of its generalization (the square is empty, the other young people have succumbed and the night persists), the film makes its remarkable contribution to contemporary Brazilian cinema.


Bringing together the two films discussed here, we perceive an immediate historical connection between the situations they describe: the torture against Rafael has its historical roots in the impunity of Cláudio Guerra and his counterparts. The lack of judgment by yesterday's torturers permeates the routine activity of today's, and exposes Rafaels in Brazil to torture and extermination, daily practices of the Brazilian State in the genocidal management of poor populations. In 2019, at least 5.804 people were murdered by the police in Brazil, a figure higher than in 2018. In this context, cinema, with its devices for receiving testimony and reverberating speech, can intervene in the course of history, making people hear their most inaudible voices. By figuratively and verbally confronting state assassins or by transforming killable figures into political subjects, cinema helps to name our barbarism and fight against its perpetuation.

Beth Formaggini made the first film in Brazilian cinema starring a dictatorship killer. It took almost half a century to wait, as few agents of repression accepted to speak, until now, sometimes paying with their own lives. In this sense, no less rare is the film by Affonso Uchôa, with the testimony of a survivor of today's killers, encouraged by the naturalization of crime, covered up by acts of resistance and protected by heavy weapons. Like the War operations at the Cambahyba Plant, Affonso's filming on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte also had to be done in the dead of night. The dictatorship's crimes were clandestine, but the denouncement of similar crimes, even today, often has to be as well. From one clandestinity to another, Brazil continues to exterminate its population.

*Anita Leandro is a professor at the Department of Expression and Languages ​​at the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (ECO-UFRJ).

*Mateus Araujo is a professor at the Department of Cinema, Radio and Television at the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP).

Article originally published in the electronic journal DOC On-line, n.28, September 2020, p.43-60.



Agamben, G. (2010). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life I. 2nd ed., Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG.

Arendt, H. (1994). about the violence. Rio de Janeiro: Relume-Dumara.

Benjamin, W. (1985). "About the concept of history". In: Walter Benjamin. Selected Works I. Sao Paulo: Brasiliense.

CNV (2014). National Truth Commission. Report. 3 volumes. Available at:

Derrida, J. (2005). Poétique et politique du témoignage. Paris: L'Herne.

Ginzburg, C. (2007). Un seoul témoin.Paris: Bayard Editions.

Guerra, C., Medeiros, R. & Netto, M. (2012). Memoirs of a Dirty War, Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks.

Horta, A. (2018). Interview with Eduardo Passos and Beth Formaggini, for the program the country of cinema, Canal Brasil, on 20/10/2018. Available in:

Jupiara, A. & Otávio, C. (2015). The basements of the misdemeanor – jogo do bicho and military dictatorship: the history of the alliance that professionalized organized crime. Rio de Janeiro: Record.

Nogueira, C. (2020). The trauma, the speech. Kinetics, 20/5/2020. Available at

Rancière, J. (2001). La fiction documentaryaire: Marker et la fiction de mémoire. In: La Fable cinematographique. Paris: Seuil, p. 201-216.

Rosenblum, R. (2000/1).Peut-on mourir de dire? Sarah Kofman, Primo Levi. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, no. 64, 113-137. Paris.

Torres Magalhães, F. (2008). The suspect through the lens. DEOPS and the image of subversion (1930-1945). São Paulo: Fapesp-Humanitas-Official Press.

Xavier, I. (2001). “From the military coup to the opening: the response of auteur cinema”. [Originally published in 1985]. In: Modern Brazilian cinema. São Paulo: Peace and Land.



76 years old, Gregório Bezerra, communist (1978), by Luiz Alberto Sanz.

The Temporary Life (1968), by Maurício Gomes Leite.

Bla bla bla (1968), by Andrea Tonacci.

Brazil: a Report on Torture (1973), by Saul Landau and Haskell Wexler.

Goat Marked for Death (1964/84), by Eduardo Coutinho.

City of God (2002), by Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund.

Citizen Boilesen (2009), by Chaim Litewski.

Duch, the master of the forges of hell (2011), by Rithy Pahn.

What now, José? (The torture of sex)(1979), by Ody Fraga.

I killed Lucius Flavius (1979), by Antonio Calmon.

Hitler 3o World (1970), by José Agrippino de Paula.

war gardens (1968), by Neville de Almeida.

Lúcio Flávio, the passenger of agony (1977), by Hector Babenco.

gray morning (1969), by Olney São Paulo.

Martyrdom (2016), by Vincent Carelli.

Killed the Family and went to the movies (1970), by Julio Bressane.

Memories for everyday use (2007), by Beth Formaggini.

It's not time to cry (1973), Luiz Alberto Sanz and Pedro Chaskel.

Paraguayan Nights (1982), by Aloysio Raulino.

On Vous parle du Brésil: tortures (1969), by Chris Marker.

Orestes (2015), by Rodrigo Siqueira.

The days with him (2012), by Maria Clara Escobar.

The Torturer (1980, by Antonio Calmon.

Pastor Claudio (2017), by Beth Formaggini.

Forward Brazil (1982), by Roberto Farias.

Palomares silver (1970), by André Faria Jr.

It's good to see you alive (1989), by Lucia Murat.

Resurrection (1989), by Arthur Omar.

Identification Pictures (2014), by Anita Leandro.

seven years in may (2019), by Affonso Uchôa.

Tropa de Elite (2007), by José Padilha.

You can also give a cool ham (1974), by Sérgio Muniz.



[I] With varied clippings and emphases, the discussion about the relations between these two poles of modern Brazilian cinema appears in several studies (which it would be impracticable to list here), of which the most lucid remains, in our view, the synthetic essay by Ismail Xavier, “From the military coup to the opening: the response of auteur cinema”, published in 1985 and later included in his precious booklet Modern Brazilian cinema (São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2001).

[ii]Memoirs of a Dirty War, a 291-page book, the result of an interview by Claudio Guerra with journalists Rogério Medeiros and Marcelo Netto, was published in 2012 by Topbooks.

[iii]At CNV, he was confronted with four series of photographs: missing persons, executions, Zuzu Angel (76), reconnaissance of agents. Without supporting images, he was also questioned about the House of Death and the Rio Centro attack. Guerra's second statement to the CNV, in Brasília, lasting 2h07min, is available at: The final result of the CNV investigations, signed by José Carlos Dias, José Paulo Cavalcanti Filho, Maria Rita Kehl, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Pedro Dallari and Rosa Cardoso, was published in 2014, in three volumes, with the title National Truth Commission. Report, available in:

[iv] Colonel Júlio Miguel Molina Dias, former head of Rio's DOI-Codi, was murdered at his home in Porto Alegre on 27/11/2012; and Colonel Paulo Malhães, a former agent of the Army Information Center, was also murdered at home in Nova Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro, on 24/04/2014, two months after giving testimony to the CNV.

[v]In an extract from Beth Formaggini's preceding film, Memories for everyday use, Ivanilda says to the camera: “I don't know what happened to my husband. All I know is that he disappeared. I don't know the day, I don't know the hour, or where. I want to know, where?”. Projected onto the screen, this scene is mounted against the close-up of Guerra's face.

[vi] The operation, launched by the São Paulo DOI-CODI, in collaboration with other DOIs in eight Brazilian states and the CIE, aimed to dismantle the newspaper Working Voice and to eliminate PCB leaders, at a time when the dictatorship had already dismantled all armed resistance. The repression had already put an end to the armed resistance and tension was established in the government, between those who wanted political opening, aligned with Geisel and Golbery, and those who operated to prevent this from happening.

[vii]In addition to executing opponents or burning their corpses, Guerra committed a series of other crimes in his state functions in the 1970s and 1980s, some of which landed him in prison more than once. Eight months after filming, these crimes are briefly highlighted in the book The basements of the misdemeanor – jogo do bicho and military dictatorship: the history of the alliance that professionalized organized crime, by Aloy Jupiara and Chico Otávio (Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2015, p. 147, 156-7, 164-5 and 167).

[viii]A second torture team from the House of Death was headed by Colonel Malhães, quoted above.

[ix] According to Guerra, at the Cambahyba plant he would have incinerated the bodies of prisoners killed under torture in the House of Death in Petrópolis or in the PE barracks at Barão de Mesquita. They are: João Batista Rita, Joaquim Cerveira, Ana Rosa Kucinsky, Wilson Silva, David Capistrano, João Macena, Fernando Santa Cruz, Eduardo Collier Filho, José Romã, Luiz Inácio Maranhão, Armando Teixeira Frutuoso and Tomás Antônio Meirelles.

[X]Guerra reportedly took 25 new Army sub-machine guns to Cambahyba, still in their boxes, to be distributed to local landowners.

[xi] Eduardo Passos talks, in an interview with Andrea Horta, together with Beth Formaggini, for the program the country of cinema, from Canal Brasil, published on 20/10/2018. (Consulted on 08/09/2019).

[xii] Excerpts from Cláudio Guerra's account, taken at different moments of the film Pastor Claudio.

[xiii] The image of the “internal enemy” was outlined at the beginning of the 1924th century, with the creation of the DEOPS, the first political police, in 2008 (TORRES MAGALHÃES, 28, p.XNUMX). During the Vargas government and, later, during the military dictatorship, this expression appeared in several official documents, in reference to citizens who opposed resistance to the regime. By using it, in quotes, we want to divert its target, sending it back to the State that formulated it.

[xiv] See Agamben, G. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life I. 2nd ed., Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2010, especially Part 2, “Homo Sacer”.

[xv] The lack of attention to this curve produced by the film, as well as the strategic place occupied by its ending, led some critics to see in the dead/alive sequence a less happy aspect of its construction. This seems to occur, for example, in a very good text by Calac Nogueira, O trauma, a fala. Kinetics, 20/5/2020 (Available at, followed at this point by observations by other editors of the magazine in a conversation also published there on 22 /5/2020, under the title An apprenticeship: prose about Sete anos em Maio and Vaga carne (cf. Respecting his considerations, however, it is worth reminding our friends that without the sequence of the ending, Rafael's movement to conquer citizenship would simply not be completed in the figurative economy of the film, reducing the scope of his political gesture.

[xvi]Without a police report, Rafael's case did not enter the statistics of police violence. The undocumented history of his ordeal, which extends five centuries of uninterrupted genocide of blacks and the poor in Brazil, has left no evidence or documentary traces for the historian of the present time. All that remains is his testimony and the place where the torture took place, close to a substation belonging to CEMIG (Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais), in Contagem. But isn't testimony the “space of belief, of the act of faith, of commitment and signature”? (Derrida, J., 2005. Poétique et politique du témoignage. Paris: L'Herne, 37). If proof belongs to the “order of knowledge”, testimony belongs to the order of “duty” (ibid), since it comes from a moral commitment in relation to the Other. Rafael is a survivor and, as such, he needs to testify. There where a historical memory seemed impossible, cinema created the conditions for the elaboration of a testimony, between documentary and “memory fiction”, to recall the expression of Jacques Rancière (2001). La Fable cinematographique. Paris: Seuil, 201-216.

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