Manda Bala was a big winner at the Sundance Festival coming away with awards for Best Documentary and Best Videography, and these awards were richly deserved. Newcomer to the directors chair Jason Kohn has produced a tour de force. Winning at Sundance is one thing, but getting the movie into the theatres is a whole different ball of wax. Jason gets his opportunity on Friday 17th when Manda Bala opens in New York, and selected cities afterwards.

Set in the teeming mass of humanity that the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo has become, Jason explores the life and interrelationships of some seemingly very disparate characters and how Brazil has become a Mecca of corruption, violence, and crime.

We get to meet Deniz (last name unknown) who runs a frog farm, now what could possibly be corrupt about frog farming? Well we soon discover that this is no more that a front to launder millions upon millions of dollars that are being siphoned off from an Amazon development fund that is administered by Jader Barbalho. This charismatic politician has the moral scruples of a rattlesnake! In an interesting twist in Brazilian law as long as Jader Barbalho stays as a politician he can not be taken to court, and Jader knows how to buy the votes needed to ensure a long and very financially rewarding career.

Sao Paulo businessman Mr X introduces us to the problem of commuting within the city. It holds the dubious title of the being the kidnap capitol of the world, with at least one happening every day. The most common method being a ‘Car Jacking’. Mr X explains that people with enough money basically do not drive, Sao Paulo boasts the largest fleet of privately owned helicopters in the world. If you do not have the cash for one of these neat toys, and just have to drive, Mr X suggests bullet proofing your car. It costs about $55,000, ruins your gas mileage, but does provide some protection against hand guns (Rifles are stile a problem).

We get to meet a kidnap victim and learn much about the tactics that kidnappers use, if the family does not pay promptly they cut off an ear and mail it, often with a video of the event (video included eek).

In the event of this happening to you. You will need the services of plastic surgeon Dr. Juarez Avelar, who likely is the worlds leading expert on ear reconstruction. Jason Kohn includes some curious footage of how this is performed (not recommended for the squeamish). A patient remarks “he is great, my ear is perfect, but the lobe is a little hard, it was the cartilage he used”.

Finally we get to witness a one-on-one with one of the kidnappers, hidden behind a ski mask and going by the pseudonym of Magrinho he patiently explains that’s it just business. He is poor, his victims are rich, he is just redistributing the wealth. He found that he could make more money that his previous one, which was robbing banks. This is unconfirmed, but my research claims that Magrinho is now dead. Apparently he was involved in a shoot out with police, and was shot on the shoulder and gut, the paramedics rushed him to hospital and on arrival, he had a new wound, a neat bullet hole in his head…… This is mere speculation, but my guess is the vehicle hit a pot hole and the gun discharged accidentally!

I give this movie very high marks indeed, and if you do not believe the truthfulness of Manda Bala, I would like to inform you that you will not find it playing in Brazil, the government has banned it!

I hope that Manda Bala is Jason’s pass into the mainstream studios, he has a great eye for camera use, and a great way to pull the story together. And I can not resist this pun. Manda Bala proves that Sao Paulo is a Frog Eat Frog world! My wife and I were contemplating a vacation in Sao Paulo, but after watching Manda Bala we have settled on Baghdad instead, because it is so much safer!

My co-reviewer Jan (wife) and I give this one two frogs up!

Simon Barrett

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