José Padilha tried to recreate Narcos’ grandeur. Photo: Netflix
o mecanismo netflix operation car wash fake news

José Padilha tried to recreate Narcos’ grandeur. Photo: Netflix

Two years ago, Netflix announced that it would make an original series based on Operation Car Wash – Brazil’s largest (and longest) corruption investigation to date. Viewers were even more excited when they discovered that the renowned director José Padilha (Narcos, Elite Squad) would lead the project. The result, a series called O Mecanismo (‘The Mechanism’ in English) is now available with subtitles in English, French, German, and Spanish.

While American audiences are used to political shows, Brazilian content producers have traditionally avoided them. That lack of practice is noticeable when watching O Mecanismo. Instead of sticking to the facts, which are already movie-worthy, Padilha opted for unnecessary flare and exaggerated performances. Padilha tried to recreate many of the elements found in his hit show Narcos. That strategy, however, didn’t elevate his Brazilian series; it only serves to highlight its shortcomings.

</p> <p><em>O Mecanismo</em> starts in 2003. Federal Marshal and narrator Marco Ruffo (played by Selton Mello) investigates money-laundering operators involved in a corruption scheme within the State Bank of Paraná. Ten years later, those same characters will be the connecting links to Operation Car Wash&#8217;s multiple graft probes.</p> <p>Ruffo is the prototypical honest cop, fighting against the system and the target of threats from both corrupt bosses and targets of his investigations. In the first episode, as if to make Ruffo into a sort of Brazilian Serpico, Padilha gives Ruffo’s character a completely implausible line: “After 20 years as a federal marshal, I’ve only been able to buy a used car and a small country house.” It’s included in the script as a testament to the character’s honesty, but let’s be real. Someone at his rank would have earned roughly 28,000 BRL per month in 2003 – that’s nearly 25 times as much as the national average. And that wasn’t enough to buy a new car? Does Ruffo have a gambling problem we don’t know about?</p> <p>This is just one of many examples of Manichean dualism and oversimplification to be found in the series. The Netflix drama relies far too heavily on clichés we would expect from telenovelas – not José Padilha.</p> <div id="attachment_3373" style="width: 1764px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-3373" class="size-full wp-image-3373" src="" alt="netflix car wash" width="1754" height="1170" srcset=" 1754w, 300w, 768w, 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 1754px) 100vw, 1754px" /><p id="caption-attachment-3373" class="wp-caption-text">Marco Ruffo, the man against the system. Photo: Netflix</p></div> <h3>Loosely based on true events</h3> <p>Within the first few days of its release, <em>O Mecanismo</em> managed to generate buzz among the political class. Former President Dilma Rousseff published a statement accusing Padilha of “spreading fake news” and “assassinating reputations.”</p> <p>The series, for instance, fails to mention that the corruption schemes started before the rise of the Workers’ Party. But Rousseff and supporters of her <a href="">Workers’ Party</a> were especially irritated with one particular discrepancy between fact and fiction. In the series, President João Higino (who represents Lula) talks about the need to “stop the bleeding” caused by the investigations. The phrase is famous – but it was said by the current government’s leader in the Senate, Romero Jucá, <em>after</em> Dilma Rousseff had already been <a href="">evicted</a> from the presidential palace.</p> <p>Due to the timing of the series’ release, which is just months away from the election, the former president accused Netflix of campaigning against Lula and the Workers’ Party. Her supporters have been asking for a boycott of Netflix. (If anything, though, I bet these reactions will do more in the way of giving free publicity to the streaming service.)</p> <p>Padilha, on the other side, didn’t pull any punches: “In the opening credits, we say that the events have been <a href="">dramatized</a>. If [Rousseff] knew how to read, we wouldn’t be having this problem.” Ouch. And about the viewers threatening to cancel their subscriptions, Padilha was more playful: “Too bad. They will miss <em>Narcos</em> season 4.”</p> <p>Other <a href="">discrepancies</a> in <em>O Mecanismo </em>are less harmful. Like the scene where Marshal Marco Ruffo goes to a dumpster to recover shredded documents that would prove his case against the men he was investigating. The reality, as usual, is far less exciting. The Federal Police relied on bank statements and data analysis. No rifling through the trash has been reported.</p> <p>Overall, <em>O Mecanismo</em> offers an uneven, average narrative about an important investigation. If we had more distance from the events, then perhaps those discrepancies wouldn’t be so damaging. But Operation Car Wash is far from over, and political radicalism has been rampant.</p> <p>While the series has its merits, particularly in its recreation of the operation’s surreal launch in 2014, viewers shouldn’t rely on the Netflix drama for historical accuracy.

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BY Carla Bridi

Carla holds a bachelor's degree from Casper Libero Journalism school. She has contributed to TV stations like Band and Gazeta.