Sequestro (Kidnapping)

If the crimes form a pattern, throughout Jorge W. Atalla's remarkable Sequestro (Kidnapping), it's hard to tell what's going to happen next.

Sequestro (Kidnapping)

Director: Jorge W. Atalla
Cast: Jorge W. Atalla, Rafael Correa Lodi, Humberto Paz, Caio Cavechini
Rated: NR
Studio: Yukon Filmworks
Year: 2009
US date: 2010-09-10 (Limited release)

In São Paulo, kidnapping is an established business -- lucrative and hectic. From 2005 through 2009, a film crew followed the police department's anti-kidnapping division, riding along to locate captivity houses, listening in on phone calls, observing horrified victims, level-headed inspectors, and busted criminals. The cases are similar -- someone is snatched, ransom is demanded, cops demonstrate their hard-earned expertise. But throughout Jorge W. Atalla's Sequestro (Kidnapping), it's hard to tell what's going to happen next.

Established in 2001,the Divisão Anti-Sequestro (DAS) is populated by officers who look alternately dedicated and exhausted. They've seen too many cases that turned out badly, but still, they expect to track down offenders and recover victims. The kidnappings evince no patterns, save for desperation: most of the perpetrators are poor, in pursuit of money to live on (one here asks for just $300 U.S.). Victims' relatives take phone calls, demand proof of life, try to hang onto their fast-fading sense of coherence. For, the film suggests, the overriding effect of kidnapping is loss -- of confidence, security, and logic -- for individuals, families, and communities.

A timeline slides over the screen early in the film, with headlines and daunting numbers indicating the evolution of the industry (here deemed "Kidnapping, International"), the increasing numbers of people taken, ransoms paid paid, days in captivity. At first, the practice was overtly "political," in the sense that guerrillas were looking to finance rebellions. But it appears that Brazil's effort to repress the business in 2001, by putting the politically inclined offenders in prison alongside "common criminals," led directly to a boom, as the common criminals learned how to commit kidnappings, and even started passing around how-to manuals. It wasn't long before the numbers of cases surged, and the DAS became necessary.

The film's focus on loss is rendered in numbers (during the four years of the film's production, a title card tells you, 376 people were kidnapped in the state, and over 15,000 in nation), but also in vividly emotional displays. Recovered victims appear in interview frames, their backgrounds blank and their faces shadowed, some still visibly distraught as they recount their ordeals. But recordings of phone conversations are immediate and harrowing, sounding over black screens, voices pitched high and words grinding together. When the son of one victim cries that he can't raise the amount of money requires, the kidnapper yells, "You'll get your father back in pieces, you son of a bitch!" A cop adds, "Keep calm, trust us." The relationships developed during each crisis -- sometimes going on for weeks or months, sometimes done with, one way or another, quickly -- are intense, difficult, and dramatic.

A former member of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement of Chile (MIR) convicted in the 1989 kidnapping of Brazilian mogul Abilio Diniz, Raimundo Roselio describes his thinking. Seated inside a cage, he explains, "Kidnapping is a kind of crime that defies the logic of pressure. There can be no pressure." This seems right for the criminal with a sense of mission, whose ideal state is utter control -- or the appearance of same. Now, however, the criminals seem less organized (several are picked up at home, roused in their underwear): they rely on hysteria and panic.

Moreover, the victims are always susceptible to pressure. Alessandro, son of the kidnapped José Ibiapina, seems the very embodiment of pressure, worrying and crying out. "You need to be strong," says the officer. "It's not wrong to get emotional," he adds, "Sometimes it's good. In fact, it can be detrimental to be too cold." Alessandro's face suggests he's not quite ready to calculate a performance.

DAS inspector Rafael Correa Lodi, on the other hand, is adept, changing his tone and affect depending on each situation. Gentle with victims, cajoling or aggressive with criminals, he's quick to adjust. "Outside," he tells one offender whose associates remain at large, "You're an animal. You get a gun and become an animal. Now you're jerking me around, because your word is worth crap. That's your problem: you've got bad partners." The captured lawbreaker agrees, "These guys are sons of bitches." Lodi's made an inroad, maybe. And, he insists, "I want my victim freed."

This attitude, that the cases belong to particular cops, helps to structure the film. While Officer Carlos Castigliani cautions, "You have to know how to separate the cop from the man and the friend of the family because you end up getting too involved," the cops' investments are visible throughout. The film invites you to feel along with them, the camera running along behind them in dark alleys and corridors (as in Cops) and a sentimental score accompanying the rescue of some victims. Still, some cases don't end well: one of the interviewed victims describes her rape and her permanent dis-ease: "I can't understand what goes on in the mind of a rapist," she says, "More than violence, it's subjugation, it destroys a person's fabric. You feel guilty for having pleasured someone." And a kidnapper remembers that "his" victim was killed. Though her ransom was paid, he says, "She saw me when I abducted her, she died, strangled in a chokehold," as if he had no part in the murder.

The film frames these individual traumas with an insistent political and social critique. The industry is a function of poverty and hopelessness, the victims vulnerable and diverse. As Sequestro argues, solutions, like the problem, must be systemic.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.