Four Days in September (1997)
Director: Bruno Barreto.
Starring: Alan Arkin (Charles Burke Elbrick), Fernanda Torres (Andréa/Maria), Pedro Cardoso (Fernando Gabeira/Paulo), Luiz Fernando Guimarnes (Marcno), Cláudia Abreu (Reneé), Nelson Dantas (Toledo), Matheus Nachtergaele (Jonas), Marco Ricca (Henrique), Maurício Gonçalves (Brandno), Caio Junqueira (Julio), Selton Mello (Cesar/Oswaldo), Eduardo Moscovis (Artur), Caroline Kava (Elvira Elbrick), Fisher Stevens (Mowinkel), Fernanda Montenegro (Dona Margarida).
to oppose the military dictatorship in 1969 young Brazilian leftists kidnap the American ambassador to Brazil
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1964. A military coup brings a military dictatorship to Brazil.
1968. The military dictatorship suspends all civil rights and freedom of the press. The jails are filled with political prisoners and the streets are filled with demonstrators.
1969 (July 20) -- man lands on the moon. The American Ambassador to Brazil Charles Elbrick is celebrating the landing of the astronauts. Three friends are also watching the landing. Two of them, Fernando and Cesar, have joined a radical movement to oppose the Brazilian military dictatorship. They ask the third man, Artur, to join them, but he chooses not to join.
A mysterious man has Fernando put on blackened glasses and drives him to a secluded apartment. The recruits gathered there are given new names. Fernando is now Paulo and Cesar is Oswaldo. The other two are Julio and Rene. Marcao is the man who picked up Fernando. Comrade Maria comes in to talk to the new recruits. She tells them that this is the October 8 Revolutionary Movement, MR-8. Their objective is to fight the military dictatorship.
The new cell of revolutionaries robs a bank to get money to finance their revolutionary activities. Cesar is the last to get into the get-away car, but he stops when he sees a policeman who has just spotted them. Raising his pistol, Cesar hesitates to pull the trigger and gets shot in the leg. The get-away car leaves him behind. Cesar is captured and tortured. He gives up all the revolutionary names he knows and describes the look of each person.
The money from the bank robbery is great, but Fernando suggests that the group do something bigger to get more attention for their cause. He suggests that they kidnap the American ambassador to Brazil. The group likes the idea. Two older men from the National Liberation Group arrive to manage the project. Toledo is an old man, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and Jonas will be the sole leader of the kidnapping. Jonas is a little upset with the group because, as he says, they are a bunch of "middle class kids". On the day of the kidnapping the group tells Fernando to stay behind. They think he is too much of a nerd to be trusted with the kidnapping. He is very upset but can't protest too much because Jonas had told them that any one refusing to obey his orders would be shot.
Thursday, September 4, 1969. Nixon announces a withdrawal of 25,000 troops from Vietnam. The group stations itself on the route that the ambassador's car travels. The ambassador is delayed and they have to be there longer than they wanted to be. A woman across the street has noticed their suspicious behavior and their nervousness and calls the military police. They ask her for the license plate number; she gets it for them; they check it out; it comes back clean; and so they tell her to forget about it.
The ambassador's car rounds the bend; Rene gives the signal that it is approaching; the lead car pulls out in front of the limousine; Rene gets in her car and follows behind the limousine; the lead car blocks the street and Rene pulls in behind the limousine. They jump out with weapons drawn, hit the ambassador over the head and knock him back into the car, and jump in the limousine. All three cars are then driven away. The woman across the street watches all this as it happens and she quickly calls the military police again.
Back in their hide-out with the ambassador locked away they watch the television news. Their demands are that the military dictatorship release fifteen of their political prisoners. They also want their manifesto both published and broadcast. They give the government forty-eight hours in which to respond.
Friday, September 5, 1969. The radicals start interrogating the ambassador. One question is has he heard that US military advisors are teaching the Brazilian military torture techniques. They also ask the ambassador if he approves of the war in Vietnam. Fernando objects that the ambassador was not kidnapped to be forced to give them information and the others somewhat reluctantly agree. They send Julio to the local store to get some food. He buys eight chicken roasters and pays for it with cash, while flashing a wad of money. This makes the store owner very suspicious and he calls the police. They come out to investigate.
The radicals have the ambassador write a letter to his wife to relax her and the military. Fernando takes the letter, along with the list of fifteen names of the political prisoners (which includes Cesar), and drops it in a church collection box. He then calls a newspaper to tell them where he left the two items. Back at the hide-out, Rene reads about the big music festival called Woodstock.
Jonas's suspicions are aroused by two telephone repair men that don't look like repairmen. He figures out that the police have found them. He is correct. Jonas, who does not like Fernando, wants Fernando to have the task of shooting the ambassador twice in the head. Maria tells Fernando that she is afraid of dying. She and Fernando start kissing. She tells him that her real name is Andrea. (She already knew Fernando from a speech he had made against the military dictatorship.)
10 p.m. The deadline time arrives and Paolo approaches the ambassador with the intent of shooting him, but there is a knock at the door and a voice says that the military have accepted their demands and they will release the fifteen political prisoners.
Sunday, September 7, 1969. Brazilian Independence Day. On the television, the radicals hear the news that the political prisoners have arrived in Mexico, among them Cesar. They get the ambassador, put him in one of their two cars and start to drive to the stadium where a soccer match is being held. The radicals are scared when they see the police following them. But just when the situation looks dreary for the radicals, another car cuts off the police vehicle. A high ranking officer jumps out of the blocking vehicle and asks the pursuing police if they are trying to get the ambassador killed.
At the stadium, all the radicals mix into the crowd of soccer fans leaving after the end of the game. The ambassador is released and told to get lost. Ambassador Elbrick hails a cab and is driven to his residence where he is greeted by his wife.
One month later. The police are given the rooms for rent section of the newspaper with various ads cut out of it. They place this template over a fresh page from the same newspaper for the same day and thereby are provided with a list of places where the radicals were considering to use as hide-outs. Fernando sees a wanted poster with the pictures of the entire gang. He and Maria are together. The police grab Maria and Fernando tries to scale the wall in the back yard. He is shot in the back before he can get over the wall. Fernando is then tortured.
Eight months later. The German ambassador to Brazil has been captured. Jonas and Toledo are dead, but the rest of the gang will be released from prison to retrieve the German ambassador. At the airport a picture of the gang with other political prisoners is taken. Fernando and Maria are reunited.
1979. The military government of Brazil gives amnesty to all those involved in political crimes.
1983. Former ambassador Elbrick dies.
1989. Democracy returns to Brazil.
Good movie. Except for their political motivation, this movie about the radicals kidnapping the American ambassador to Brazil could just as well have been a good crime drama. If you are a conservative, you will see no difference in the crimes, but if you are a liberal you will acknowledge the political difference. As they say, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The tension is maintained throughout the movie which is good for a crime drama or a political crime drama. The acting was an ensemble with no one really standing out that much from the other actors.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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