Netflix seems to be having a South American renaissance. After the smashingly well-produced Narcos, based on the life of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, the video streaming service has now debuted 3%, a dystopian drama produced locally in Brazil.
In a society riven by poverty and disease, a tiny minority – the name of the series indicates the precise fraction – is permitted a chance at a better life by participating in The Process – a series of physical and mental challenges that are and inhumane in the extreme. The tantalisingly out-of-reach Offshore is a meritocratic haven whose perfection is a far cry from the grim reality of the Inland.
This, then, is Hunger Games territory. Unlike the Katniss Everdeen-fronted series, though, the losers here have the option of returning to the Inland, alive if barely so. No matter. Death will visit nevertheless and the eight-episode format allows each task to be drawn out until the very final stretch of the psychological evil underpinning The Process has been unleashed.
Joao Miguel stars as Ezequiel, the charismatic and megalomaniacal conductor of The Process, whose apathy to the suffering of the participants blinds him to an unfolding tragedy at home. In one task, he keeps a bunch of young men and women – The Process admits 20-year-olds – cooped up inside a warehouse without food and water until they revolt – not against The Process but one another. It’s a harrowing episode made worse by its amoral presentation of the events unfolding on the screen.
Michele (Bianca Comparato) is one of those participants. She belongs to the Cause, a ragtag bunch that comes together to take down The Process and all that it represents – elitism, the illusion of choice, and savagery. She has her reasons for hating The Process and especially Ezequiel, but in the timeless tradition of all morality tales, must not peek so deep into the abyss that the abyss stares back at her.
The show is based off a 2011 web series created by Pedro Aguilera, and executive produced by cinematographer Cesar Charlon (City of God, The Constant Gardener). The cast consists entirely of Brazilian actors. Michel Gomes plays Fernando, a wheelchair-bound participant whose humanity is a beacon in the oncoming darkness. Rodolfo Valente plays Rafael, a striking young man whose success in The Process hides disturbing truths about his past. Finally, there is Vaneza Oliveira who, as the enterprising Joana, brings an admirable ruthlessness to her character.
What works in the series’s favour is the elaborate backgrounds bestowed on the characters, even Ezequiel, whose past forces itself messily into his elaborate game plan. The Council, peopled by seniors on the Offshore, has deputed Aline (the stunning Viviane Porto) to probe allegations of misconduct against him and the two will come to indulge in a cat-and-mouse game that mirrors The Process in its naked ambition.
This is the first season of 3% and it ends on a suitably unsettled note to merit another block of episodes. The series, which was made available globally on November 25, has garnered rave reviews. This should give hope to other local properties in which Netflix in investing, including India, where an Anurag Kashyap-led adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games is in the offing.