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Brazil’s mega corruption scandal to get movie treatment

lula
Movie to feture Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | AFP |

Brazil’s gigantic corruption scandal will move from news TV to movie theaters and Netflix next year, when rival directors turn the real-life thriller into entertainment.

For two years, Brazilians have watched in fascination and horror as prosecutors unleashed a probe codenamed Operation Car Wash, targeting everyone from an ex-president to super-rich executives with allegations of mass embezzlement at state oil flagship company Petrobras.

Power, money, betrayal, fearless investigators — what more could a scriptwriter want?

“Our objective is to make a blockbuster,” says director Marcelo Antunez, whose movie, with the working title “Federal Police — the law applies to all,” is scheduled to open in May.

The story of Car Wash, or Lava Jato as it’s called in Portuguese, is embedded in Brazilians’ consciousness. Latest arrests or damning leaked testimony from high level witnesses frequently lead the news.

Antunez says he’ll take that drama back to the beginning, when police first latched onto a ring of black market money dealers linked to a petrol station in Brasilia — with little idea of where their probe would lead.

“It’s a very complex story, not just because it changes every day, but because it began as a rather small investigation,” Antunez said in an interview at his production offices in Rio de Janeiro. “We’re taking a snapshot of time to allow us to understand.”

Filming starts this month in Curitiba, the city where the Car Wash team is based.

An as yet-unnamed series commissioned by Netflix is also due to hit the screens next year, directed by Jose Padilha, one of Brazil’s most successful movie makers.

He has the powerful “Elite Squad” and “Robocop” among his credits and produced and directed another Netflix series, “Narcos,” about the life of infamous Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar.

 Entertainment or politics? 

Car Wash might make for a ripping yarn, but it’s also a political minefield. Some in Brazil believe that investigators led by crusading Judge Sergio Moro have gone disproportionately after leftist figures.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s hugely popular leftist president between 2003 and 2010, has fiercely attacked bribery and other corruption charges against him as politically motivated.

There was a flutter of scandal in the Brazilian media last month when it was reported that Wagner Moura — probably Brazil’s best known actor — had refused to play Judge Moro in the Netflix series.

Both Padilha and Moura, who plays Escobar in “Narcos” and also starred in “Elite Squad,” later denied having discussed the role at all.

The leftist O Cafezinho blog suggested that Antunez’s movie version will be a pro-police propaganda tool.

The blog notes the unusually large budget by Brazilian standards — 13.5 million reais ($4.18 million) compared to a more typical $1.5 million) — and the film’s unprecedented access to the Curitiba operation.

“Would someone wanting to make a film critical of Car Wash also be allowed to make a deal with the police?” asked O Cafezinho.

Human side 

Antunez says the filmmakers were able to see inside the Curitiba offices, though they’ll only film outside. They’ll also get police cooperation for scenes involving armed officers, helicopters and the like.

But multiple interviews with officers and prosecutors mean the script will be “very factual,” Antunez said.

Lionizing the officials is not the point.

“They’re people. They don’t fantasize that what they’re doing is bigger than it really is — they don’t talk about saving the country or anything,” he said.

The big challenge, Antunez said, was knowing where to stop the story. He eventually chose the tense moment in March when Lula was briefly detained for questioning.

Car Wash has served up many shocks since and is likely to keep doing so — so the movie cameras will keep turning.

“The intention of the producers is to have sequels,” Antunez said.

And at a time when Congressional deputies — many facing Car Wash probes themselves — are thought to want to close down the investigation, Antunez says he hopes his film will help maintain public pressure.

“I’m not worried as a filmmaker but as a citizen I am,” he said. The probe “has to go all the way.”

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