Movie Magazine International

Four Days in September (original title: O Que Isso, Companheiro?)

Brazil - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

"Four Days in September" wastes no time in getting to the point -- that this fact-based story is about politics. The time is 1969. Fernando and his friends in Sao Paolo are watching Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. Do they react with awe and wonder? No, they muse on the shortcomings of the capitalist government that made the trip possible.

Fernando's even more critical of Brazil's repressive government and he joins an underground revolutionary group that makes its political points by robbing banks. He gives the group's leaders pause, though. They trust his sincerity, but they're put off by his sense of humor. Still, he's the one who comes up with the foolproof plan to circumvent the strict media censorship by the government that denies the revolutionaries any publicity and, hence, any opportunity to incite the masses to follow them. Why not, he wonders, kidnap the American ambassador? They do, and the fallout from it incites as much terror for the kidnappers as the ambassador, played by Alan Arkin in a standout performance.

The literate script, by Leopoldo Serran, draws interesting parallels between its characters. An idealist turned outlaw in the name of freedom and a policeman who uses torture to prevent terrorism. Neither is enamored of the means, but both are committed to the ends. Both the ambassador, who was an OSS operative during World War II and the terrorist veteran of the Spanish Civil War have been through enough killings and betrayals to know that the only response to the current situation is to remain, at least outwardly, calm.

Director Bruno Bareto uses a spare, no-frills style that allows the issues raised by the script to speak for themselves. How tempting it must have been to use melodramatic reaction shots that would have oversold the kidnappers' surprise when they learn that the Ambassador shares their opnion of Brazil's rulers.

In the end, the true villain here is a dictatorship that drives its citizens to such extremes. It pushes idealistic kids with dreams of brotherhood into guerilla training camps and turns everybody into surrogate big brothers for the junta. "Four Days in September" isn't peopled with heroes and villians so much as innocent victims.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 1/4/98

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