ANDAmong the horrors, past and present, shown on television, some of the most unpleasant to watch are the statements by José Anselmo dos Santos (1942-2022), included in the series In Search of Anselmo. The dark police officer serving the military dictatorship, better known as Corporal Anselmo and later known as Jadiel, Jônatas, Kimble and Daniel, recounts his trajectory throughout the five episodes released in April 2022, with a total duration of 309 minutes, shown again a week ago on the HBO Mundi channel and available on the HBO Max streaming service.
At the end of the first episode, a frontal light, similar to that of an interrogation, illuminates a close by Anselm. He is attentive, with a serious facial expression and looks to the right of the frame. A voice is heard in Off: “Have you ever killed anyone?” Before answering, the interviewee laughs, interrupted by the change of plan. Now, facing the camera, he says: “Once, I went to kill a chicken, right? But he gave me a huge shake and the chicken ran away, with its neck half broken.” There follows a fade out, and on the black background appears the title of the series in white letters.
Given this clumsy attempt at humor, and after watching the entire series, it is worth asking: was it appropriate to give Anselmo condescending treatment in the series? A caption at the end of In Search of Anselmo informs that “to date there are no official records of how many people were kidnapped, tortured, murdered and disappeared as a result of Corporal Anselmo’s allegations. In addition to the six militants murdered in Pernambuco [no início de janeiro de 1973]few others have been identified.”
That is, Carlos Alberto Jr., director and screenwriter of In Search of Anselmo, does not fail to mention episodes in which accusations made by his character resulted in tragic outcomes. On the other hand, despite some direct questions being asked of Anselmo, what stands out, in general, is the director’s benevolent attitude. The interviewee is rarely challenged, even when he seeks to exempt himself from any responsibility for what happened, or when he justifies his participation as having been driven by an ideological conviction against the armed struggle.
O The prologue of the fifth episode is exemplary in this sense. The bucolic opening shots show Anselmo sitting next to a small house surrounded by lush vegetation, reading a book with his legs crossed and his feet on a table in front of him. Next to him are a black and a white dog. A question is asked in Off in the third person, despite being addressed to the interviewee himself: “Was Anselmo also driven to act that way by some kind of cowardice?” In response, he first says: “I never thought of it as cowardice, no. I always thought the following: my actions were acts of conscience. I was aware of what I was doing, with one objective: to contribute to ending the armed struggle. Second objective: to free myself and move on with my life away from violence.”
This is followed by an alternating montage of other statements with prosaic staged scenes of what his daily life would have been like at the time of the recordings – Anselmo feeds the dogs; later, he states: “Today for me, internally, this issue has already been defined. I’m not looking for people to judge me guilty, innocent, hero or scoundrel. Nothing like that.” Anselmo waters the plants in the garden with water from a hose and says in the next shot: “At that moment, I didn’t feel calm and, today, I don’t feel guilty at all.” After asking an unidentified person if “you want to eat an ora-pro-nóbis”, the prologue ends with Anselmo laughing loudly. It would be a case of asking him what he’s laughing about. But nothing is said and the opening credits of the fifth episode follow.
Carlos Alberto Jr.’s complacency in relation to his character stands out, initially, in the systematic attempt to recover his modest origins in Itaporanga D’Ájuda, Sergipe, and to collect the testimony of his childhood and adolescence friends, in addition to his own testimony, sometimes recorded in a church – Anselmo rubs his hands over his face and gets out of bed, washes his hands, shaves, combs his hair, drinks coffee; he visits the DOPS building, in the center of Rio de Janeiro, where he was arrested for the first time, etc. They are all scenes from private life and a kind of biographical tourism in an apparent attempt to portray the character as an ordinary man.
Qhen Anselmo claims, at the end of the fifth episode, that even without his collaboration, the group of militants killed or disappeared on the outskirts of Recife in January 1973 would end up “just like so many others ended up”, insinuating that this would exempt him from responsibility for the that occurred, Carlos Alberto Jr. made the mistake of not refuting the interviewee. The contradictory justification given below by Anselmo, supposedly in his own defense, is also not disputed: “And another thing. I was not, at that time, certain that they would be tortured and killed because several of the people I had relationships with and… were already operating for the DOPS are alive.”
Anselmo does not answer the following questions, the last ones asked of him in the series: “Where is Edgar? [Edgar Aquino Duarte]? Evaldo [Evaldo Luiz Ferreira de Souza] He is a missing politician. Where is Soledad’s body? [Soledad Barrett Viedma]? Soledad is a missing politician.” This is the rare and late moment in the series in which the screenwriter and director assumes the role that he has had since the beginning, that of opposing the criminal. Anselmo’s final silence is self-condemnation. He simply makes a quick expression with his face and a gesture with his hand that could perhaps be taken as equivalent to “what else can I say?” or “So what?”
The one who accurately points out the decisive flaw in the conception of the documentary series dedicated to José Anselmo dos Santos, about which there was already a vast bibliography and countless recorded interviews available, is the pedagogue, artist and human rights activist Ñasaindy Barrett de Araújo, daughter of Soledad . After Anselmo’s silence, she says in her statement, holding back tears: “There is no way to find Soledad’s body. But there is a way to find Soledad. Soledad can be found in many places today. On many flags… Let’s look for and find Soledades. I believe it is better than searching and finding Anselmos.” Carlos Alberto Jr. at least had the merit of ending In Search of Anselmo with this affectionate proposal.