Jean Charles (UK/Brazil 2009)

Jean Charles and Vivian touring London (photo by Toby Jacobs)

Jean Charles is a 2009 British-Brazilian film depicting the life of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian immigrant shot dead by the Metropolitan Police at Stockwell Tube Station in London on July 22, 2005.

To date it has had only a few screenings in the UK (with no general release at present) though it has had a successful release in Brazil. Leeds Hyde Park Picture House presented the first screening of the film outside London and the director and co-scriptwriter Henrique Goldman came along to talk about his film after the screening. This was to coincide with a Lusophone Conference [the study of the Portuguese language and culture] at the University.

The film presents not just the events that captured the headlines in 2005 but also a portrait of the life of the young Brazilian in London. Jean Charles emerges as a sort of chancer in this portrait, working as an electrician but also pursuing slightly dodgy opportunities at the same time. He also slots into a Brazilian émigré community in the metropolis: with a crowded and slightly anarchic flat as his home.

However, in some ways the key character in the film is his friend Vivian. The film opens with Jean Charles smoothing (with a degree of con) her path through the airport emigration controls. At times the first hour feels a little like a tourist guide to the capital, as Jean Charles shows Vivian both the sights and the social life of the city.

Then the film becomes far more serious with the events leading up to the shooting of the young Brazilian. There is a change in the film style at this point, with both actual footage from the events and a more distant slightly documentary feel to the presentation. At the film’s end Vivian sets off round Europe, taking up a plan that Jean Charles himself was unable to put into effect. So she has become the main carrier of meaning at the film’s narrative end.

There follows series of titles about subsequent events, including the campaign by family and friends and the failure of any substantial investigation of the police actions or any actual shouldering of responsibility.

In the Q & A that followed Henrique Goldman talked about getting the film produced, its reception in Brazil and the way in which he had attempted to dramatise Jean Charles’ short life in England. At one point the film was to be produced by the BBC but the Corporation pulled out. It was finally made in no small part with support from the sadly now-defunct Film Council. Goldman did not feel that there had been undue obstruction to the making of the film. He also commented, regarding the Metropolitan Police, that it was worth remembering that in Brazil in that same year over 1000 people were killed by the police.

I made the point that there had been quite a few other cases of innocents killed by the Metropolitan Police, both before and after the death of Jean-Charles. There was not an opportunity to discuss this, but it is worth noting that ‘our’ police force is not part of a society that has endured 500 years of European and North America colonialism and neo-colonialism.

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