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Old 07-24-2009, 04:07 PM
Hector Babenco's Pixote

Pixote (1981)

Hector Babenco's "Pixote" starts out in an unusual way. It begins with a message stating the ongoing problem of homeless children and those that have to live in terrible conditions in a district of Sao Paulo. The message, which is probably from Babenco himself, is probably a way to make us sympathize with the characters in the film that follows, as he tells us that the star comes from similar conditions to what he's showing us. While he does to get our sympathy here, the film itself quickly loses it as the events of the characters' lives unfold.

The film begins as homeless children are rounded up for the murder of a judge. These kids are then taken to a reformatory home for boys where we meet our main group of characters. There is Pixote (Fernando Ramos da Silva), Chico (Edilson Lino), Dito (Gilberto Moura), and Lilica (Jorge Julião), as well as others that come and go. We quickly realize that there is something not quite right at this home when two of the children are murdered with shotguns and another beaten to death. The police are involved somehow, perhaps easily corrupted by the fact that these minors cannot be charged with a crime in their legal system.

The second half of the film takes a much different turn as the boys decide to escape and take their chances on the streets rather than wait for something to happen at the home. The main group immediately turns to crime, stealing purses and briefcases from people on crowded streets. However, this was merely to get them enough money to go into the drug business where they get a supply from a friend of Lulica's, Cristal (Tony Tornado). After some bad experiences with the drug business, they turn to another friend, Sueli (Marília Pêra), a prostitute who becomes part of their group. She lures clients into situations where they are robbed by the boys. This does make them some money, but it ends up costing them more than they bargained for.

What struck me as strange about this film was its bifurcated structure. The film sets up a mystery in its first half and does very little to explain what is actually going on, despite the fact that the murdered bodies begin to pile up, which is why I mentioned in the summary that although the police seem involved, it is only "possibly" for this reason. Then, for the second half of the film, it leaves all of this behind and decides to have a completely different focus with the kids living on the streets.

The second half is where the film continues to take a downward spiral, and it is in fact where the film adopts a new subtitle, replacing "The Survival of the Weakest" with "A Series of Stupid Decisions." The kids start off alright, stealing the purses and briefcases from their unsuspecting victims, but we quickly learn that they are merely doing this to be able to get into the drug racket. Why would they change from stealing, which they were doing quite well at, to a much, much more dangerous business? Not that I'm condoning stealing, it's just that it would have been much smarter and safer for them to stay in that field, especially if they were making good money already.

Even when they do get into the drug racket, their stupid decisions continue. Their first deal is to a stripper, Debora (Elke Maravilha). She tells them that if they wait there, she will go sell the drugs and be right back with the money to pay them. The fact that they are dumb enough to fall for this makes any sympathy we had for them go right out the window.

Luckily, they had only let her take half of the supply with her, leaving them the other half to deal with. They take them to another possible buyer at a strip club where they once again run into Debora. They, of course, demand the money that they are owed, which she says she will give them after the show. At least they don't fall for it a second time, yet they do manage to get themselves into even more trouble through some rash actions.

After this business fails and they get into a new line of work with Sueli, things start going pretty well, which is actually quite amazing, amazing in the fact that, even though they rob these people, none of them come looking for retribution. Nor does this group end up forming a reputation of any kind, warning others to beware of Sueli and her little gang.

The last "job" they pull ends up going terribly wrong, leading to more death, but by the time this happens, there has been so little character development, that we just don't care at all about what happens to these kids. Their choice of making one stupid decision after another has ruined any chance of sympathy that could be evoked for them. So the last two scenes, which are obviously supposed to be emotional, come off as very flat and lifeless.

The movie has no true climax which leads to the last 10-15 minutes just fizzling out into nothingness. If the filmmakers meant for the last "job" to be the climax of the film, it needed a lot more buildup than what they allowed. A lot of people dismiss this film's many flaws by saying that they were kids and didn't know any better. I don't buy that for one second. If they had enough intuitiveness to get into the businesses that they did, then they certainly had enough to realize what they were doing. Just because they're exempt from being charged with a crime doesn't make them exempt from being charged with making dumb choices. 1.5/4 stars.
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