Acclaimed social drama isn't for everyone
Libretio | 06/18/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
PIXOTE: THE SURVIVAL OF THE WEAKEST
[Pixote: A Lei do Mais Fraco]
(Brazil - 1981)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Theatrical soundtrack: Mono
Hector Babenco's third feature provides a harrowing and squalid glimpse into an alien culture beset by an all-consuming poverty. Chronicling the life and crimes of ten-year-old homeless boy Pixote (pronounced 'Pi-chott' or 'Pi-chott-ay', and played with remarkable sincerity by non-professional actor Fernando Ramos da Silva) in the slums of Sao Paulo, it follows him down the path of petty thievery to his brief stay in a reformatory where violence is a way of life, to his eventual escape and descent into murder. The only shafts of light are provided by his friends, fellow outcasts whose attempts to rise above their appalling circumstances are almost inevitably doomed to failure, and by an alcoholic prostitute (the luminous Marilia Pera) who unwittingly precipitates their downfall. In the end, only one of the characters emerges from the debris, returning to the slums where life - such as it is - goes on much the same as before. It isn't a pretty picture, nor can it ever be.
Though depressing and unlikeable, PIXOTE is virtually critic-proof. Based on a novel by Jose Louzeiro, Babenco's film offers an outraged response to the crushing hardships suffered by millions of homeless street kids in Sao Paulo who turn to crime to sustain themselves and are exploited by criminal gangs because of a loophole in Brazilian law which forbids the prosecution of minors. Most scandalous of all are the corrupt police officers who participate in the murder of countless street children every year, treating it as a form of 'pest control'. If nothing else, PIXOTE refuses to flinch from the reality of these terrible circumstances, depicting rape, murder, glue-sniffing and robbery with an uncompromising level of detail.
However, those seeking exploitation are advised to look elsewhere - these events are outlined against a backdrop of misery and ruined aspirations, in a crumbling landscape where even the smallest flicker of hope can be cruelly extinguished at any given moment. Worse still, despite the film's campaigning nature and its international theatrical success, these conditions still exist in Brazil today, and Ramos da Silva - whose social standing mirrored that of the character he played - ultimately succumbed to its worst excesses: Unable to escape the bonds of poverty which prevented him from realizing his dreams, he turned to crime and was murdered in 1987, allegedly by local police. His life and death was subsequently dramatized by director Jose Joffily in WHO KILLED PIXOTE? (1996).
Michael J. Mccann | Atlanta, Georgia | 02/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hector Babenco's tale of homeless children in Brazil is devastating. Must rank with some of the great films ever.
The film stars 10-year old Fernando Ramos da Silva, who was an illiterate kid plucked from the streets of Sao Paulo. At the beginning of the film, a judge has been murdered and kids are rounded up and sent to a reformatory. Pixote witnesses a brutal rape his first night. He quickly adapts to the chaotic and often inhumane atmosphere. Corrupt police pin the crime on one of Pixote's friends and brutally murder him. They pin his murder on a second friend, and proceed to kill him.
Pixote and friends escape to the streets of Sao Paulo where they resume their life of crime. The friends are Lillica, a transvestite soon to turn 18, Dito, Lillica's lover and ring-leader, and Chico. The friends meet Cristal, a drug dealer who sends them to Rio to sell cocaine. A drug deal gone awry costs Chico his life and Pixote kills the perpetrator, a prostitute named Debora. The three boys hook up with another prostitute named Sueli, played by Marilia Pera in an unforgettable performance.
There is a sadness in Pixote's eyes that is unforgettable. He accepts his descent into hell in a matter-of-fact manner. Viewers will have difficulty deciding whether he sympathetic or not. He is only ten, has a baby face, and faces horrible circumstances. At the same time, he is an eager participant in the crimes that take place. The portrayal of what Brazil's awful conditions do to the young and innocent is heartbreaking."
"Pixote" proves prophetic as the millenium draws near.
Michael J. Mccann | 03/13/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Disturbingly realistic fictional tale of a south american street urchin. Considered damnable and pornographic in some circles for its depiction of child rape, prostitution, and murder. DaSilva's paradoxical portrayal of the baby-faced Pixote sends an apocalyptic "this could happen here given the circumstances" warning to all cultures and strata of society. The fatalistic "life-imitating-art" eventuality of actor DaSilva's real-life death in a police shootout a scant few years after the release of "Pixote" adds a chilling footnote that underscores the film's social commentary."