Judge Daryl Loomis never jokes about torture...or does he?
"You are more scared of what may come than what you're already going through."—Journalist and associate of Vlado, Frederico Pessoa
On October 25, 1975, Vladimir Herzog, known casually as Vlado, answered a summons by the Brazilian court to answer questions about his work as a high profile journalist. Thinking he had nothing to hide, Vlado arrived at the police station. Accusing him of having Communist ties, the Brazilian dictatorship took him into custody and, a mere few hours later, released a report announcing his death by suicide. Along with the report, they produced a photo of the victim, hanging by a belt in a preposterous pose, and tried to let the matter rest. Anyone associated with Vlado knew well that he was no candidate for suicide, no matter what he was put through. Moreover, everyone in Brazil afraid of being dragged from their homes knew well their government's use of torture and murder to obtain confessions, so this suicide line didn't really fly.
The blatant cover up of this torture and murder, especially with Vlado's credibility as one of Brazil's most respected journalists, threw the public into an uproar. The case and the resulting outcry, as described by director João Batista de Andrade, began the fight in earnest for a democratically governed Brazil, one where free thought was not punishable by death. It took the people many years, and they're far from perfect in the human rights record, but after finally ousting the military tyrants, they were able to maintain free elections in a country not driven by fear.
Vlado: Thirty Years Later is a fine study of a subject that has been all but forgotten in the three decades since the incident. Batista de Andrade was a friend and colleague of Vlado and the love he has for his lost friend is explicitly clear in his narration. His obvious reverence of his subject is nice, but it's also the weakest part of the film. Coupled with the director's narration, which doesn't take up too much of the running time, interviews with Vlado's closest living friends and associates tell the whole story of this martyred journalist. From his rise in the field to his arrest and death, Vlado is presented as a man of the highest integrity, one who worked hard on his way to the top and helped other up on his way. This biographical information encompasses the first half of the film and, while the information is of interest, especially on that part of the history of Brazilian journalism, but the love-fest does get a little old.
The story is told linearly so, when Vlado's arrest and murder finally happen a little more than halfway through the film, we get to the meat of the story. What was somewhat boring in the first half becomes a series of harrowing tales of torture and fear. These firsthand accounts, from people who experienced it themselves and were around for the final brutal moments of Vlado's life, are extremely difficult to listen to, but important reminders of what a government can do to its people when it becomes paranoid. These Brazilian police, apparently, were big fans of an electric chair combined with an ammonia-soaked hood. The victim is both shocked and suffocated with fumes. As one survivor put it, "You time your breaths to the shocks." Vlado's death became a catalyst for revolution in Brazil and, from this point in 1975, the country began the long road toward a free and democratic state.
Cinema Epoch's release of Vlado: Thirty Years Later is inconsistent, but generally fine. The interviews, which encompass nearly the entire film, were shot in very tight close-ups from a handheld digital camera, so the picture is often shaky. The transfer itself doesn't show many artifacts, but the picture is limited by the format. The sound stereo sound is clear audible, but there is nothing special about it. The only thing that could be called an extra is some post-credit facts about the further aftermath of Vlado's case but since they are not selectable from the main screen, they don't count.
Vlado: Thirty Years Later is a worthy documentary full of good information on a nearly unknown subject. The reverence for the character is nice and all, but focusing less biography and more on the political implications of the case would have made for a more complete study. Case dismissed.
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