Four Days In September

on January 30, 1998 by Melissa Morrison
The stunning timing of this film during the Berlin fest in February, while hostages of Peru's Tupac Amaru movement languished in Lima's Japanese embassy, should have elicited a frisson of recognition among audience members. It didn't. The story of Brazilian young people who engineered the kidnapping of the American ambassador, Charles Elbrick (Alan Arkin), in 1969 to protest the policies of their country's military regime is indeed well told by Bruno Barreto; but its immediacy--the connections with larger themes that make a good movie a great one--is missing.
   Most of the time, the Producoes Cinematograficas LC Barreto production comes off as an extremely well-made and well-acted TV cop drama set in a tropical locale. In at least one way, that's good: The kidnapping operation is rendered thrillingly. But the kidnappers are a collection of types: a humorless rebel leader (Fernanda Torres); a zealot-in-training (Calo Junqueira); an innocent destined to be hardened by experience (Claudia Abreu). Even Arkin as Elbrick is ever-stoic in the face of execution, although there's a nice touch in the respectful relationship that develops between the ambassador and some of his tormentors.
   What the film lacks in depth, however, it makes up for in breadth: Instead of focusing solely on its collection of idealistic rebels, notably the film's linchpin, Fernando (Pedro Cardoso), the plot takes time to consider other aspects of the event, such as the personal toll being a torturer takes on a military cop (Marco Ricca) investigating the kidnapping, as well as the opinions of Fernando's friends from the old days, who believe there are less violent ways of changing the world. The film also isn't content to end with the resolution of the kidnapping; we see the rebels in a kind of epilogue that shows what happens after the glory of their initial success fades. Starring Alan Arkin, Pedro Cardoso and Fernanda Torres. Directed by Bruno Barreto. Written by Leopoldo Serran. Produced by Lucy Barreto. A Miramax release. Drama. Portuguese-language; English subtitles. Not yet rated. Running time: 105 min. Screened at the Berlin fest.
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