I would like to say first that I saw this movie for the first time in my first year of college, in 2002. I had never seen a Brazilian film, nor anything that was as real as this. As you can imagine, it was a jolt from the start. I had never seen a movie that didn’t feel like a movie, or that felt like a documentary: indeed, I felt like I was there with them. This is one of the most powerful films ever made, and it changed the way I saw movies for the rest of my life.
Based on the book “The Childhood of the Dead Ones”, Fernando Ramon Da Silva plays Pixote, a young runaway without a family who is forced to live in the violent, crime-ridden streets of Sao Paulo. The movie takes place in two parts: first, we are witness to the world of the reformatories, where the criminal and homeless children are sent to be rehabilitated. But this is no rehabilitation center, it’s more like a house of horrors. There are beatings and rapes every night between the young men, and the place is run by corrupt officials who wish nothing more than to get rid of the children. From Pixote’s point of view, we are witnesses to the warden having sex with mothers so that their children are better taken care of, Pixote getting high off of bad glue, troublemakers being beaten up and murdered by the officials, framed for crimes they couldn’t have committed so that they could have a scapegoat. Here we are introduced to other characters, such as Dito, a tough street-wise kid, Lilita, a homosexual prostitute, and Chico, another street-wise kid. When one of the older kids is beaten to death, they have enough, and they run away into the streets.
Here is where the second part of the film starts, and we see the new set of horrors the children of Brazil are exposed to. See, anyone who is under 18 cannot be prosecuted under Brazilian law, so criminals contract and take advantage of the children to get their drug deals and murders done. After a particularly ugly confrontation in which Chico is murdered, the three remaining kids, Pixote, Dito and Lilita, decide to become pimps. They pick up prostitute Sueli (Marilia Pera, one of the few real actresses in the film), who is sick from just having an abortion. Things go well for a while, until tensions again rise between the children, and in a job gone wrong, Dito is shot by Pixote. Pixote clings to Sueli, almost begging her to be his mother, in a scene that is both tender and disturbing, where Pixote drinks from Sueli’s breast. Sadly, Pixote is rejected once again, and in the end we only see Pixote, walking down the railroad, into a future that is unclear.
Hector Babenco must have done a lot of research, since this film is as real as it gets. It’s very inspired by the Italian neo-realist cinema coming out of Italy during the 40’s onto the 60’s, showing the truth about the world and the streets, and hiring non-actors. Indeed, only the grown ups were real actors. Particularly famous for coming out of this film was Marilia Pera, who became a superstar in her own country because of the film. She exudes a sex appeal that is both realistic and comical, but at the same time very pitiful and sad. The children were real street-children of Brazil, but they sure as hell are good actors. From the moment he’s on screen, Fernando Ramon Da Silva is our center, with very peculiar looks and eyes that cry for sympathy, even when he’s doing terrible things, like murder. Credit also must go to Jorge Juliao, who plays Lilita, who gives his role a lot of sympathy but humor as well, being the only one who seems to keep a positive attitude even at the worst moments.
The movie’s ending is not a happy one. Pixote finds no comfort, no resolution to his life, and sadly, for actor Fernando Ramon Da Silva, it would be a harbinger of things to come. The movie became a huge success worldwide and received some of the best reviews a movie could ever hope for, but Fernando never saw any of that. He continued living in the streets until he was murdered at the age of 19 by the Brazilian police.
Unforgettably real, this film stands along with films like Bunuel’s Los Olvidados, Truffaut’s 400 Blows, German film Christiane F., and De Sica’s Shoeshine, along with many classic Neorealist Italian films, as a perfect example of how cinema can be more than just an escape, it can be something that will let you grow a conscience.