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Four Days in September

Based on a former Brazilian revolutionary's memoir of kidnapping the U.S. ambassador in 1969, this film opens as students protest a junta's reign of terror, its overthrow of a democratic government and halting the free press. The revolutionaries (a government torturer calls them "innocent kids with big dreams") kidnap the man to force the junta to free political prisoners, but aren't up to the mission. A bit like many movies' hard, desperate political terrorists with big plans, the October 8th Revolution shown here don't let anyone in its group know anyone else's name, but overlooks two members' friendship. Police catch one, who quickly informs on his group. The most intelligent, uncertain kidnapper, Paolo (Cardoso), inspired by the dignity of the kidnapped American (Arkin) whom he guards, is kind to him. But the bond is complex; Paolo might have to kill him. Police and kidnappers know each other's moves, but all are amateurish. Terrorists intercept the ambassador's Cadillac; a woman seeing them warns police, who ignore her. After two cops knock at the gang's hideout, Pedro follows them, listening, and learns what they know. Cops trace the revolutionaries, uneasily guarding their hostage, by their huge takeout orders ("If they'd learned to cook!' a cop muses).

The film tries to but can't humanize either side. It can't excuse torturers; these callow young political terrorists can't easily be justified. Yes; by the kidnapping, they force a few prisoners' releases, but their crime might've been unwise for them, and doesn't return Brazil to democracy.

Serran based his screenplay on the book by Gaberia, who's now an elected official; Paolo was his revolutionary name. The story is marked both by pride and regret, unlike such 1960s films as "Z" and "The Battle of Algiers," which command sympathy, and Costa-Gavras' 1973 "State of Siege," about the kidnapping and killing of an American official to Uruguay. It uncompromisingly showed U.S. interference in another country's politics, and gave clearer consideration to kidnappers' choices, since they were apt to lose whether or not they killed the official.

At the end of this film, we don't know what to feel, and don't know what the young revolutionaries feel, either. This is a middle-aged man's view; he no longer knows why, as a youth, he was so sure of things that now puzzle him.
Director(s): Bruno Barreto
Writer(s): Leopoldo Serran
Cast: Alan Arkin, Pedro Cardoso, Fernanda Torres, Luiz Fernand, Claudia Abreu, Nelson Dantas
Release Date: 1998   
Keyword: Student take-over after military junta in Brazil
Target Age: 15+   Category: war and peace
Documentary: no
Language: English dubbed   Reviewer's Name: Micah
Review: http://MRQE
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