I would not be one of the 3%. I know this for sure. True, the 3% are the elite of Brazilian society at some unspecified time many years hence, but it is not the non-Brazilian part that would eliminate me from contention. I very much doubt I’d even make it past the first infuriating round of testing, and all that involves is talking.
We open on the bleak streets of future Brazil, all slums as far as the eye can see. Making their way, almost single file, through this grim, grimy dystopia are a collection of youngsters attractive and diverse enough to be a CW cast, all recently turned twenty years old and therefore ready to undergo The Process.
The Process is the rigorous testing that will prove a mere 3% of them worthy to join the ranks of the privileged and the proud, on an island known only, reverently, as Offshore, there to live out their days in comfort and joy, so it is assumed. Should they fail the tests, they will be doomed to spend their lives among the rabble, all dirty and bedraggled and not a crisp, color-coded uniform in sight.
Why is the future always about the color-coded outfits? The future is also into asymmetrical design, apparently – cf. Process Leader Ezequiel (João Miguel) and his one-arm shirt number. What the hell, future?
That is not the only “what the hell?” this series raises. There is the ruthlessness with which candidates are eliminated summarily, first if their interviewers take a dislike to them, second if they didn’t play with enough Lego when they were kids. (And that is just in the first episode.) There is also Ezequiel’s penchant for near-drowning, himself and his subordinates. There is the cold-blooded efficiency with which a traitor is sought and revealed. And there is the suggestion that the Offshore may not be the paradise everyone believes, though of course that is hardly an unexpected development.
Indeed, much of the show feels like very familiar territory, but it still feels pleasingly original as well. It takes us a while to really nail down a protagonist, for example – her name is Michele (Bianca Comparato), she is badass – and there are a few surprise eliminations early on, as well as a few surprise passes. We have some oversight of the Process, personified by the charming but calculating Aline (Viviane Porto), and we have a truly brutal regime under which truly anything might happen.
Joana (Vaneza Oliveira) is awesome.
The series is shot with an eye to beauty, even when it focuses on such ugliness, and the acting is superb. The sets are sterile and spacious, and feel as empty, as portentous as the future they support. Filmed on a budget, but making the most of every penny (or centavo), the action takes place in what could easily be an abandoned mall, an unsold office building, or even perhaps an airport still under construction. But this minimalism only adds to the unsettling feeling this show gives you, a kind of sickish anxiety over these characters, over their world, and over ours.
While a Netflix show, 3% is nevertheless entirely Brazilian, but if you live in a non-Portuguese-speaking country you will receive a dubbed version by default. (English and Spanish currently available.) Personally, I don’t mind a subtitle and really dislike a dub – especially this one, I tried it for bit but they all sound like Disney XD voice artists – so I made the switch, but if you’re not into all that pesky reading with your viewing, the option is there.
However you do it, watch this show. Rattling along at a clipping pace throughout its eight-episode first season (a second season is surely forthcoming; Netflix is good like that) it is dystopian YA but all grown up.
And still, the question all dystopia asks of us: would you be among the chosen? Would you be in the 3%? As I mentioned, my answer is a definitive ‘no.’
But hopefully you played with more Lego.
Dystopia | 1 Season (8 Episodes) | November 25, 2016
Created by Pedro Aguilera | Netflix
Starring Bianca Comparato, João Miguel, Michel Gomes, Rodolfo Valente, Vaneza Oliveira, Viviane Porto