Cops and Robbers: Tracking Brazil’s Kidnapping Machine in Sequestro


Much of Sequestro looks, basically, like COPS: Cameraman joins task-force rush, following bristling guns through a kicked-in door. The stakes are higher in Jorge W. Atalla’s documentary, though—over four years, Atalla’s crew shared the case-a-day workload of São Paolo’s DAS Anti-Kidnapping Squad. The film begins with audio from a kidnappers’ telephone call, their voices disguised in Muppet-like tones: “You’ll get your father back in pieces,” they squawk to José Ibiapina’s son. Ibiapina’s 33-day ordeal structures the movie, abusive negotiations recurring like a routine between busts, negotiations, cash drops, and survivors’ testimonials. Sometimes the DAS arrive on time, as with one young man who practically melts in the light of salvation; sometimes they do not, as in the case of a woman (ransom paid) who reappears only as toes emerging from a concrete grave (“She died strangled in a choke hold” explains her former host, expressionless). A visceral montage, Sequestro does not pursue for long the established evolutionary link between old “idealistic” fundraising kidnapping and mercenary thuggery, nor the correspondence between the prisons where slum dwellers learn how to steal humans and the solitary confinements they devise for their middle-class victims. Staying squarely with those victims, what Sequestro does crudely do is communicate the only really sensible platform—an abhorrence of cruelty.