Ônibus 174 (2002) (aka Bus 174)
José Padilha

“Didn’t you kill my friends in Candelaria? I was there.”


Many would have seen the devastating account of the Brazillian slums and the juvenile violence breeding within them in Fernando Meirelles’ brilliant feature City of God (2002). However, a similar themed documentary film, Onibus 174 (2002) (aka Bus 174), does not get the same attention and credit as City of God. Released late in the same year as its fictional counterpart, Bus 174 is centered on a hostage situation in Rio de Janeiro, where an armed man named Sandro who had taken 10 hostages aboard a public bus.

(Spoiler Alert)

Sandro Rosa do Nascimento boarded a public bus on June 12th 2000 with a loaded gun in the intention of robbing the passengers. Things go out of control and the intended robbery snowballs into a tense hostage situation with full coverage by the national media. Sandro demands a gun and a new driver for the bus from the police. The police are neither able to negotiate and resolve the clutter nor are able to snipe him down because of the media. It is gradually revealed that Sandro is a kid brought up in the streets of Rio and had seen his friends being slaughtered by the police in the Candelaria church massacre.

As time goes, Sandro panics and asks his hostages to scream and even asks one of them to act dead in order to push the police. At around 7 in the evening, Sandro alights from the bus taking a female hostage along with him as shield. As the police try to capitalize the situation, one of their men approaches Sandro and fires from inches near his head. It misses and hits the hostage who is then shot many times by Sandro himself. The police now take the defenseless Sandro, stuff him into their vehicle and pounce on him, suffocating him to death.

(End of Spoilers)

For a documentary running for about two hours, the film could have been branded overlong if not for the director’s attempts to interestingly intersperse the various threads of the narrative and hence give the feel of a mainstream thriller. The calm and composure with which Luanna Belmont handled Sandro and talked him into contemplation shows that a brave person is not necessarily the one with the gun. Her act redefines what a hero is and even reveals the power of expression.

Bus 174 puts forth several social and political issues prevalent in Rio including the ostracizing of slum dwelling children by the public and government, ineffectiveness of the Rio police under crunch situations and the incessant intrusion by the media on delicate matters, but never once becoming unfocused on the central event. Though seemingly a tad sympathetic towards the teens of the slum, the film never champions any issues put forth and leaves the conclusions to the viewers.

Where Bus 174 scores over its companion piece is its tag of reality that persuades the viewer to know and analyze the world around. It does not let one to lay back and detachedly watch the on-screen massacre as one does in City of God. It prompts the viewer to listen to, not hear, the cries of the oppressed and weak. The last two adjectives are not to be associated with the brutality on the slum-dwellers or the pressure on the police but the involuntary involvement of civilians and innocents in the acts of violence.

In a world infested by racism, bigotry and communalism, it is only the efforts of individuals, not governments and organizations, which will help bridging the rift between them and prevent further misery. The Bus 174 incident is an embodiment of that statement. Don’t miss this one.