The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

Inspecting Hidden Gem #9: Amor Bandido


Brazil / Carnaval Unifilm, / 1978 / Color / 95 minutes / Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1




Rio De Janeiro's police inspector Galvão (consummately portrayed by Paulo Gracindo) can be as cold and hard as a marble tombstone, but there he sits, crying his eyes out after watching his estranged daughter perform in some sleazy strip club. Having once kicked her out of the family home when she was 13 for turning promiscuous and bringing shame to his family, he wishes to reconcile with her now that her mother is dead and he is all alone.    

Meanwhile, he's involved in a manhunt to apprehend a serial killer of cab drivers terrorising the city. The gruesome aftermaths indicate the killer's modus operandi: The dead drivers are left slumped over their steering wheels, their cash stolen, windows rolled up, while some pop song plays on their cab radios.


His daughter Sandra (an enticing Cristina Aché) is the pretty, stick-thin working girl whose bitter and rebellious attitude is a result of having to fend for herself in this uncaring urban environment following her father's decision to put her out on her own.   

She becomes romantically entangled with a young, adorably handsome young man, Toninho (boldly played by Paulo Guarnieri) in a highly charged relationship that's portrayed as a circle of nasty fights, stormy breakups, and passionate reunions of primal, animal-like sex, although they do take time-outs for romantic daydreaming and city life's simple pleasures.   


This story's startling revelation comes later when Sandra discovers that the boy she's involved with is the same sociopath her father is desperately trying to catch. Toninho might as well be wiping his nose for all the thought he shows before pulling a gun and shooting their cab's driver in the head. He then quickly grabs the cash, the girl, and runs. Sandra, horrified at first, goes numb afterward probably realising there's nothing she can do to change things... this boy she's compulsively attracted to simply has no feelings or concerns for anyone but her.

These three characters seem ego-driven yet they all attempt to reconcile some genuine feelings making their fate worthy of our concern. Director Bruno Barreto's visual style matches his characters' volatility with a cinéma-vérité  approach, providing the proceedings with a gritty, raw and spontaneous feel which furthers our interest.

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One very brief but amazing scene that perfectly summarises the story and its main characters' triangular relationship occurs when the two sweethearts make love on a circular bed. Disco lights flash overhead, as Earth Wind and Fire's song Fantasy plays over the sound system. As the camera pivots around the room we notice in the corner a television silently flickering images of Sandra's father Galvão, his face full of frustration as he's interviewed about the "cab driver killer" investigation. It's a moment of pure adrenaline rush and one that would make that master of the temp track, Martin Scorsese, proud.    

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Speaking of Scorsese, there's a climax to Amor Bandido that's right out of the director's Mean Streets, only it's a whole lot meaner. Galvão discovers that his daughter's lover is the killer he's trying to apprehend. As his police colleagues beat Sandra into cooperating with a sting operation in the hope of capturing Toninho at the club where she works, the inspector sits nearby, closing his ears, frantically trying to block out her painful screams. These three characters' lives don't just converge, they hurtle recklessly into each other in a violent melodramatic conclusion that will have you ducking for cover. Compared to the grimy sidewalks of Scorsese's New York, Baretto's tragic finale will make Rio De Janeiro's seamy streets run even redder with blood.




How To Best Appreciate This Gem:

At present the only legitimate video software displaying this film is on VHS tape and laser disc. Both contain English subtitles. I'm not certain of the aspect ratio presented on either but I've heard that the picture quality of the tape is barely adequate. Both are long out of print but might possibly be bought on Ebay. No legitimate DVD exists at this time. One can only hope.