One of the most wrenching cinematic experiences in history, PIXOTE portrays the brutality in the lives of Brazil's street children. The first half of the film depicts the blackmail and sadistic violence faced and practiced by boys in a juvenile reformatory. The second half follows four boys who have escaped and become involved in drug dealing, prostitution, and murder.

Argentine-born Hector Babenco (a Brazilian citizen since 1970) is one of the most expressive filmmakers to appear in the post-Cinema Novo generation in Brazil. His first feature, O REI DA NOITE (1975; THE KING OF THE NIGHT), caught the attention of critics with its tango-flavored depiction of one man's amorous association with Sao Paulo's nightlife. Babenco then made one of the most controversial Brazilian films of the 1970's, LUCIO FLAVIO (1977), the first film to deal with the infamous death squads, their systematic use of torture, and their mutually supportive association with Rio de Janeiro's criminal element. LUCIO FLAVIO, like the subsequent PIXOTE, is based on a work of documentary fiction by Jose Louzeiro.

LUCIO FLAVIO and PIXOTE (the original title literally means ``Peewee, the Law of the Weakest'') have a number of things in common besides their common source. Despite their frequent characterization as ``documentary-like,'' both are constructed by way of a traditional, classical, seamless narrative, the illusionistic style long favored by Hollywood. Both draw from long-established international cinematic genres, LUCIO FLAVIO from police thrillers and PIXOTE from films dealing with children and delinquency - LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS (1959; THE 400 BLOWS), LOS OLVIDADOS (1950). Both concern marginal, if not criminal, elements of Brazilian society, and both show characters in a situation with no exit or hope. Both films develop the metaphor of the world as a prison. Both deal with violence in contemporary Brazilian society and the corruption of Brazilian social institutions, and, by extension, function as critiques of authoritarianism itself. Whereas LUCIO FLAVIO is filmed in what might be termed a ``realist'' style, PIXOTE, through its almost excessive use of violence, tends toward the neonaturalist.

PIXOTE is one of the most wrenching cinematic experiences in history. It portrays the brutality and violence in the lives of Brazil's street children, most of whom, if not totally abandoned, come from broken families. When released in Brazil in 1980, it was met with much controversy. A former juvenile court judge in Rio de Janeiro asked that the director be indicted under the Law of National Security for inciting the corruption of minors, advocating drug usage, and undermining social institutions.

The film is divided into two relatively equal parts. The first depicts the violence faced and in some cases practiced by the boys in Brazil's juvenile reformatories. In the reformatory, the boys face intimidation and blackmail from older inmates and the authoritarian, institutional violence of the bored and often sadistic adult ``guardians.'' In collusion with the police, reformatory officials stand by while the children are beaten and sometimes killed. They virtually ignore, for example, the fact that one boy has been violently gang raped by other boys. The concerned liberalism of Juiz, a juvenile court judge (Rubens de Falco), and of the media is no match for the duplicity of the institution's officials. The boys became accustomed to taking drugs and are schooled in criminal techniques. Their few moments of relief - Sunday afternoons with family visits or makeshift rock concerts - are poignant for their brevity and ultimately pathetic nature.

The second part accompanies four of the boys - Pixote (Fernando Ramos da Silva), Dito (Gilberto Moura), Lilica (Jorge Juliao), and Chico (Edilson Lino) - after their escape from the reformatory and records their involvement with the criminal or marginal element of Brazilian society. After practicing random crime in the streets of downtown Sao Paulo, they soon meet with the drug dealer Cristal (Tony Tornado), who wants to continue his affair with the transvestite Lilica. Cristal sends the group to Rio de Janeiro to make a cocaine delivery. There, in their naivete, they are tricked and robbed by cabaret dancer Deborah (Elke Maravilha), whom Pixote, in a moment of instinctive reaction, kills for her betrayal. The boys eventually accumulate enough stolen money to buy the rights to pimp Sueli (Marilia Pera), an alcoholic prostitute. With her, they set up a plan to cheat unsuspecting clients, earning enough money to buy a color television set by the end of long sequences of horrors depicted in the film, Pixote has pimped, run drugs, and killed three people, including, accidentally, his friend Dito.

As a narrative, PIXOTE adheres rigorously to the rules of classical cinematic discourse. The version of the film released in the United States begins with Babenco himself addressing the audience to provide a background for the events depicted. This form of direct address, a technique more associated with documentary than with fiction, clearly attempts to convince the spectator of the veracity of the events that the film presents. It posits Babenco as an authority, lending the film a degree of authenticity that might otherwise have been impossible. Such an introduction was not needed in Brazil, because the social reality which the film reconstructs is well-known to almost anyone who has lived or worked in the country's urban centers.

PIXOTE functions through spectator identification with the protagonist, which is relatively easy since the protagonist is a child. The process of identification is made easier still by Babenco's choice of Fernando Ramos da Silva in the title role. The eloquence of his face and the agelessness of his eyes - innocent yet hardened, childlike yet unfeeling - transforms him into the perfect symbol of a generation lost to the authoritarianism, inequality, and brutality of Brazilian society.

The film's camera work, by cinematographer Rodolfo Sanches, is highly subjective. Point-of-view shots, showing the world from Pixote's perspective, alternate with an objective camera revealing the brutality faced by the film's characters. Close-ups are common in PIXOTE, as the director attempts to penetrate his youthful characters' minds, to understand their feelings, to try to recover some of their rapidly disappearing innocence, yet Babenco is not judgmental or overly sentimental. He creates a social inferno from which there is no respite, no escape. Yet brutality, degradation, and violence somehow bounce off Pixote, and the last shot shows him walking down a railroad track, smiling, as if nothing that he has been through has actually happened.

The film's initial sequences well exemplify its rhetorical procedure. The credits run on a black background and are accompanied by John Neschling's somber, dramatic, almost dissonant music. After the credits, the screen continues to be black, accompanied by the initially unidentified sounds of violence, of men fighting. The image then fades in to a close-up of a teenage black male, eyes transfixed offscreen. There is a cut to another face, eyes equally transfixed, then to a series of two-shots in which faces are severed in half by the frame's edge. In this sequence of shots, distance from the camera gradually increases from the initial close-up to a long-shot of other teenagers sitting against a wall, each of them with eyes focused on an object still unseen by the spectator. Finally, the object of their gaze is revealed: a single television set on the wall above them. They are almost narcotically transfixed by the violent images of a police thriller transmitted by the set.

The camera then tracks right, showing an increasing number of adolescents in police custody. It pauses slightly as it passes the desk of an official talking on the phone, apparently to a lover, as an anguished mother waits to tell him of her missing son. With a jump cut, the first sequence gives way to the second as a police van arrives outside the building, where the teenagers are being held. A number of adolescents are taken out of the van, some in handcuffs, among them several transvestites.

The children are herded inside the building, where one of them says that the police are picking everyone up in order to find someone on whom to blame the murder of an old man. They then go through a sort of roll call, in which it becomes obvious that most of them come from families in which the father has either disappeared or died. In fact, the first time the viewer sees Pixote, he responds to the official's statement that his father's whereabouts are unknown with the statement that his father is dead. The official version, however, is the only one admitted, and Pixote must answer that his father is unknown. PIXOTE thus paints, from its initial sequences, a portrait of social and institutional violence and family disintegration, with adolescents of whatever background confronted with the impersonal face of uncaring, authoritarian figures. Their only outlet or means of temporary escape, the television, also reflects a situation of violence.

After the roll call, a cut initiates a sequence in which the camera tracks along a darkened urban street accompanied by what turns out to be Pixote's theme song, rendered with great tenderness. The camera then cuts to a close-up of Pixote inside a bus, being taken to the reformatory where the first part of the film's narrative will occur. It is only then that the spectator realizes that the shots of the city streets are from Pixote's perspective and he is isolated as the film's protagonist. The sequence, largely composed of shots and countershots, thus initiates spectator identification with Pixote.

Although his film is clearly about social and institutional injustice, Babenco, especially in the second part, lays no blame directly on any single factor. In the first part, the police are corrupt and violent, the officials uncaring and sadistic, but broader questions of social causes are not explored. Babenco prefers to focus on the adolescents themselves and their ultimate corruption in contact with the adult world. Social criticism enters the film through its brutality and contrasts. One particularly striking sequence has three of the boys sitting on a rock overlooking Rio de Janeiro's fashionable lpanema beach. The distance between their reality and that of middle- and upper-middle-class Brazilian society is painfully apparent.

The boys attempt to reconstitute their broken families among themselves. After their escape, Pixote, Dito, Lilica, and Chico establish a makeshift family unit, with Dito and Lilica as the ``parents,'' the others as ``children.'' When they have food, they share it equally among themselves. When they do not, they pretend that they are not hungry. The prostitute Sueli becomes a lover to Dito, a surrogate mother to Pixote, and a rival to Lilica. In a scene of great tenderness after Dito's death, Sueli, holding Pixote in her arms, alternately plays his mother, sister, and lover, before finally rejecting him and throwing him out, much as she had done earlier with her aborted fetus.

The children of PIXOTE are not unlike children anywhere. They are frequently violent, often brutally so, yet their violence derives from necessity and despair. Their sometimes hardened exterior, necessary for survival in the underbelly of Brazil's urban society, belies a guarded innocence hoping for a chance in life. Yet the viewer knows that there is no tomorrow for these children. The railroad track at the end, frequently used as a symbol of hope in the future, in PIXOTE leads nowhere. Country of Origin: Brazil

Release Date: 1980

Production Line: Sylvia B. Naves for H. B. Filmes

Director: Hector Babenco

Cinematographer: Rodolfo Sanches

Run Time: 127 minutes

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Copyright (c) 1994 Magill's Survey of Cinema by Salem Press. All Rights Reserved.