March 20, 1998 in Seven

Kidnapping Of Ambassador A Great Drama

Robert W. Butler The Kansas City Star
 

‘Four Days in September,” an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, already has raised a furor in its native Brazil, where the leftist activists it depicts have complained that it plays fast and loose with the facts.

Maybe so. From an audience member’s perspective, though, Bruno Barreto’s historic re-creation of the 1969 kidnapping of U.S. Ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick is a gripping piece of semi-documentary storytelling strongly reminiscent of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 masterpiece, “The Battle of Algiers.”

The story is told largely through the eyes of university student Fernando Gabeira (Pedro Cardoso), a bespectacled intellectual who believes his country’s right-wing dictatorship — propped up by the American CIA — will torture and kill anyone who opposes its totalitarian agenda. Brazil’s only hope for democracy, Fernando decides, is armed revolution.

So he bids farewell to his friends and vanishes into the Communist underground. Given the name Pedro, Fernando finds himself in a remote encampment being trained in guerrilla warfare by Comrade Maria (Fernanda Torres), an attractive but strictly by-the-book young Marxist.

But the egghead Fernando lacks the military mindset for this line of work. He recognizes the inconsistencies and fallacies in his comrades’ doctrinal rantings, and they don’t trust his ability to act decisively when they rob a bank.

But as a propagandist Fernando proves invaluable. It’s his idea to kidnap the American ambassador and hold him until the military junta releases several political prisoners scheduled for execution.

One reason “Four Days” is controversial in Brazil is that it declines to take sides. If Fernando and his fellows are motivated by idealism, the film makes it clear that idealism is often misplaced.

Can one battle brutality except with more brutality? Does the end justify the means?

“Four Days in September” provides no answers. But its questions are always worth pondering. xxxx “Four Days in September” Locations: Lincoln Heights Cinema Art Credits: Directed by Bruno Barreto, starring Alan Arkin, Pedro Cardoso, Fernanda Tores Running time: 1:45 Rating: R (Some dialogue in Portuguese with English subtitles.)


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