Pixote (1981)

Brazil
4*

Director:
Hector Babenco
Screenwriters:
Hector Babenco
Jorge Durán
Director of Photography:
Rodolfo Sanches

Running time: 128 minutes

Original title: Pixote: A Lei do Mais Fraco

Pixote is gritty and tough and wholly credible as a faithful representation of the lives of street children in São Paulo. Whereas the title unfortunately focuses on one specific character, the film itself is interested in the larger group of individuals of which the young João Henrique, nicknamed “Pixote” (pronounced “pee-shaw-che”), forms an important part. It is a well-known fact that the boy who played the title character and whose living standards were comparable to those of his character in the film was shot and killed by police in August 1987.

The film’s extradiegetic opening is remarkably simple but entirely appropriate and manages to highlight the urgency of the plight of São Paulo’s street children: Director Hector Babenco, with one of the city’s favelas very visible in the background, speaks directly to the viewers and informs us that stories such as that of the film we are about to watch still happen every day. He even points to a small house where Fernando Ramos Da Silva, the actor who plays Pixote, lives with his family.

Pixote follows the lives of a group of young boys who, having committed crimes, can’t be sent to prison but are locked up in a reform school instead. At 10 years of age, Pixote is the youngest, and during his first night in the dormitory, a few bunks from him, a boy is raped by an oversexed teenager.

The image of Pixote sniffing glue is powerful, and we recognise this character’s desperation in a single shot. When circumstances around him become even worse (at times, the school may be confused for a prison, and a very corrupt prison at that), he decides to free himself from this restrictive environment.

But, as a relative of Pixote had warned him, life outside the school can be even worse than life on the inside. Even though there are a few wonderfully dynamic scenes in which we see the young boys snatch purses and mug unsuspecting seniors of their wallets, their eventual involvement in the world of drug dealing, which they know nothing about, is tense and leads to very bad things.

Pixote is not really the main character, and a title that made it clear that the focus is on the group rather than the individual would have been truer to the spirit of the film. The cinematography is excellent, and the acting is flawless. However, the story does not have the tight focus it could have had if the centres of interest has been more clearly defined. At one point, the film digresses into a musical number that only relates to a single character, who never really features again. However, the themes that the film does raise, including issues of poverty, sexuality and power, are all handled admirably, and it is clear to see why this socially conscious film caused such a sensation when it was first released.

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