Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Irony and “Bus 174”

by Jason Pyles

“Bus 174” (2002) is a Brazilian documentary about an unfortunate incident that occurred in June 2000 in Rio de Janeiro, when a gunman took hostages on a public bus.

The footage from the hostage situation — which was considerable since it became a major media event — is actual footage and not dramatic recreation. But much like “Touching the Void,” because we see talking-head, interview footage of the survivors, much of the scenario’s suspense is deflated, though I will tell you that non-graphic death occurs.

But the reason “Bus 174” is worth watching is its painful irony: My online dictionary defines “irony” as “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.” This film is sadly ironic.

First of all, the law enforcement’s response to this hostage crisis is staggeringly mismanaged, to say the least. The police and SWAT’s perpetually poor decisions fit the aforementioned definition of irony. It is truly incredulous that something so delicate and dire could be handled so badly.

The two most striking bits of irony, however, have to do with the gunman himself in relation to his story being captured in the cinematic medium that is this documentary. Several times during the incident, the gunman tells the police, “This ain’t no action movie! This is no movie!” At the time it wasn’t a movie, but in this filmic form, it actually is a movie now. Not necessarily an action movie, but a dramatic documentary. That’s ironic.

Also, at one point a lady who cares for the gunman reveals that he had some delusions of grandeur when he was going to abandon and overcome his street life and become famous worldwide. This is ironic because he didn’t abandon his street life — in fact, he embraced it — and became infamous worldwide through this film. (According to the, this film was released in 16 different countries.)

At times “Bus 174” becomes a little heavy-handed in its attempts to conjure our sympathy for the hijacker and other people who were orphans raised by the streets, but many documentaries carry a message. Setting the subtitles and its relevant preachiness aside, “Bus 174” is worth watching as an ironic human drama just to see how it all unravels. You won’t believe how far south this thing goes.

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