The setting is Brazil, and corruption rules the land with an iron fist. "Manda Bala" gives the viewer a front row seat to this elaborate system of sins, tracking the circular pattern of violence from the very top of the governmental food chain to the lowest form of criminal life stalking shadows of the slums. The brew is toxic and bottomless, ironically trapped in a land of overwhelming beauty and passion.
"Manda Bala" is an innovative creation that doesn't strut like other documentaries. In fact, I'm not sure it's a documentary at all; the picture employs a strange hybrid of fiction and non-fiction filmmaking techniques that blur lines of reporting and interview. This fresh approach is the springboard that makes "Manda Bala" leap right off the screen and burrow itself into the viewer's senses. Kohn puts you into the heart of Brazil; that tightness of tens of millions of people all fighting for their fortune, reducing themselves to barbarism to grasp any ray of light that pulls them out of poverty.
Of course, the sickness starts at the very top. "Manda Bala" is really the story of Jader Barbalho, a profoundly loved politician who proceeded to bleed his country dry through unimaginable orchestrations of money laundering and theft, opening a chasm between the country's rich and poor, which has led to a swiftly growing crime wave that shows no sign of fatigue.
"Manda Bala" centers on a frog farm, which played a vital role in Barbalho's scheme. Kohn uses the strange harvest of frogs as his most powerful visual tool, revealing an uncomfortable tranquility inside the symbolic raising and eventual disembowelment of these creatures for mass profit. The film is fascinated with the fragments born from this corruption, which takes the film to the streets of cities like Sao Paulo to better recognize the cycle of pain going on.
Among the many crimes against society being perpetrated in Brazil, kidnapping is number one with a bullet. "Manda Bala" uncovers the many stages of abduction: the terrified victim (as seen in video footage), the unrealistic demands of ransom, acts of violence to escalate the situation (removal of the ear is a popular button pusher), the anti-kidnapping squads, and finally the plastic surgeons who piece the victims back together and assume a nutty sense of glory from their surgical mastery.
The picture also introduces us to the fears of the common man, caught in the warfare between economic gangs, searching for a way to survive in an explosive environment. Captured shopping for bulletproofed cars, contemplating several microchip implants, or taking anti-kidnapping driving instruction, this weary individual is emblematic of the decreasing middle-class in Brazil: crossing into a comforting full-blown panic about their home field advantage, boxing themselves into thick glass to stay alive.
Soon "Manda Bala" returns to Barbalho, who dodged prosecution in numerous ways over the last few decades, keeping his political future bright by buying votes off the poor and exploiting their misery. Kohn asserts that Barbalho, and his manipulation of the government-subsidized SUDAM project (intended to allow the poorest Amazonian regions to flourish), is the golden ticket to understanding how Brazil has crumbled. With all the wonders, horrors, and witnesses packed in this gorgeously photographed and hauntingly mounted voyage into social disorder, it's impossible to disagree.