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By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The drug trade in Rio gets further big screen attention this weekend, August 6th, with the nationwide opening of “400 Contra 1 – Uma História do Crime Organizado” (400 Against One – A Story of Organized Crime). Directed by Caco Souza, the movie tells the history of the birth of Comando Vermelho (Red Command), one of the largest and most powerful drug factions in Brazil and is based on the autobiography of William da Silva, one of the principal articulators of the birth of the organization.

400 Contra Um opens this weekend, image courtesy of PlayArte Pictures.

During the military dictatorship of the time, common and political prisoners alike were thrown together in the prison on Ilha Grande in Rio de Janeiro state. The company of revolutionaries meant an education in organization, discipline and left-wing politics for the criminals. The tense combination created an ideological basis for what would become one of the most infamous crime organizations in the world.

The film follows the story of William da Silva, one of the few surviving founding members of Comando Vermelho. In the Ilha Grande prison of the late 70s, da Silva was a leader of the group during the early creation of the code of conduct and solidarity amongst prisoners. The actions spread to the outside world during the early 1980s as the organization takes to the streets of Rio in a war of criminal activity against the police that continues to this day.

Treating the personal as well as the historical and sensational, “400 Contra 1” also tells of the love story between William and his girlfriend Tereza.

Playing the lead role of William is Minas Gerais-born actor Daniel de Oliveira, whose credits include the 2004 biopic “Cazuza – O Tempo Não Para”, last year’s “A Festa da Menina Morte” and various TV novella roles.

In an interview on the movie’s blog, Daniel talks of his initial feelings about the role: “When I got the call from Caco Souza I had butterflies in my stomach. I knew it would be heavy, that it would be hard work, but I needed to do it,” he says. “It’s a great challenge and a responsibility to portray the history of my country.”

400 Contra 1 tells the beginnings of Comando Vermelho in the late 1970s, photo by Carolina Born.

The relevance of the story to the contemporary situation in Rio is undeniable, with Comando Vermelho continuing to exert their influence in certain parts of the city.

Treating the gang’s history with a view to opening up a new dialog was a further motivation for the director who says, “it is important to know that story. Why should we be so afraid? I would love people to understand how this happened, as many ignore the truth. It is important to discuss a theme so relevant to Brazil.”

According to Caco, the film is without judgment and does not make a hero out of its leading man. He also emphasizes the difference between the ideology of Comando Vermelho’s formation and its current entity: “If its roots are in collectivity and communism, today what prevails is individualism. I see the drugs trade, for example. There’s a boss, sellers on the corner, those that buy drugs… this is the pure logic of capitalism.”

The film is one of a collection of films dealing with organized crime in Rio, such as “Cidade de Deus” (City of God, 2002) and “Quase Dois Irmãos” (2002), and precedes the release of the anticipated sequel “Tropa de Elite 2” later this year.

“400 Contra 1 – Uma História de Crime Organizado” opens at cinemas in Brazil on Friday August 6th.

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