Dir: Hector Babenco, 1981. Starring: Fernando Ramos de Silva, Marília Pêra. Foreign.

While there are about a hundred reasons why this is one of my top five favorite films, it is one of those underground gems that might never be discovered. For this reason alone, it is difficult to choose which aspects of it to praise. So instead of simply stating why you should hunt down this particular movie, I’d like to cross-reference other Brazilian films from the same time. Hopefully this will inspire others to get a glimpse of a few rarities that are amazing, but unfortunately only on VHS or very hard to come by. Surely the most popular films from Brazil, made with much better technology, are Elite Squad and City of God. While these still attract a lot of attention, their popularity has not unearthed any sort of general fascination with the cinema of Brazil’s past.

Brazilian films, in general, have always fascinated me. Many of them deal with poverty, violence, political exposure and, oddly enough, satires. Bye Bye Brazil is another from the ‘80s that is definitely worth seeing. When I think of these two films, the style of them can be compared to a blend of Jordorowsky (particularly Santa Sangre), Fellini (La Strada) and David Lynch, more so in the line of haunting characters and the use of color. The early cinema of Brazil suffered from financial setbacks and were made on the lowest of budgets. Yet, the aforementioned films were made in the peak of Brazil’s cinematic exploration. The financial crisis of the nation explains the lack of archives and preservation of films done decades earlier. Brazil also imports a large amount of films from America and other countries, which blows most of the low budget ones out of the water—assuming they even make it into the theater.

Pixote was one of the few that had decent success in select U.S. theaters, and rightfully so. Before the movie begins, the director stands on a cliff above the slums and explains Brazil's issues regarding youth. Out of the then 120 million people in Brazil, half were children, and most were under 21. And seeing as how only a person 18 or older could be charged with a crime, many young children were recruited to perform crimes for adults, specifically violent ones. Fernando Ramos de Silva is introduced as the actor who plays Pixote and we are informed that he and the other actors are basically playing themselves. I should take the time to mention that de Silva aspired to be an actor and this film, made when he was 11, is his first and only for a reason. He was killed, reportedly by corrupt police in Brazil, a few years later. Perhaps the biggest reason that this film means so much to me is because it is addressing the problems of Brazil’s justice system and poverty, and the actor who played the lead met a similar fate as the characters in the movie. Who Killed Pixote? is a film made a few years later and tackles de Silva’s murder.

The film is a carnival of despair, so I'll try to not spoil the plot because it really must be seen in order to have a better understanding. It begins with a police round-up. All of the homeless boys and street urchins of São Paulo are gathered like criminals and transported to a mass group home that is the size of several prisons and functions like one. Pixote and his friends witness the brutal and unjust daily activities of both their peers and temporary guardians without any sort of escape. While some of them have talent and high-spirits, most are already broken and have given into a life of petty crime. When the violence and murders increase within the institution, the boys escape and become fugitives. Even though they are thankful to no longer be in a position where trauma is controlled and well-executed by adults, the outside world offers no hope. Many of them become ill, or grow just old enough to go to a real prison and are never heard from again.

We go through the film from Pixote's point-of-view, but also in his gruesome nightmares. These sequences are well-paced examples of the superb imagery that realist cinema has. The film is harsh and gut-wrenching, but it also incorporates the subtle joys and pastimes of children. In a way, it inspires you to cherish and be thankful for everything positive in your life. Though it has been met with a lot of controversy surrounding the ages and exposure of all the young actors and extras, it is an outstanding achievement from Brazil. The point of this review is to not only encourage you to see one of my favorite films, but to let it serve as an example of many other Brazilian films that no one cared about and are becoming harder and harder to get a hold of. With Pixote, and many other early Brazilian films, we can get a glimpse of a nation's rich cinematic past that is becoming too obscure for comfort. Highly recommended.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 8, 2010 3:21pm
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