This, thank God, is not another second rate City Of God. It is Brazilian, and about the struggle to survive in the city, but it isn’t flashy, doesn’t set out to excite or thrill, doesn’t feature lives blasted away by gang violence. This is about rejecting crime and violence, and about how hard that makes it to survive and get by.
Not that this film is at all dull, preachy or earnest. Cutting between scenes in the lives of five members of a São Paolo family, it just shows, convincingly and compellingly, their limited life choices.
Dinho, Dênis, Dario and Reginaldo are brothers. Their mother, Cleuza, loses her job as a domestic cleaner because she’s pregnant. Her eldest, Dênis, who owns a moped, works as a courier, but doesn’t earn enough to support a girlfriend and baby. Directors Salles and Thomas brilliantly mix the real and fictional, their cameras weaving with him in and out of downtown traffic. When teenager Dario turns up for a trial with a professional football club, we’re at a real trial with thousands of other kids waiting to show what they can do. Even more desperate are the scenes at an evangelical church service that Dinho attends – religion offering scant hope and consolation to people who have little of either.
Maybe it’s a little too long, but this is an outstanding realistic drama that shows these people’s ordinariness, strengths and weaknesses, and never idealizes or diminishes them. It’s beautifully observed, makes its points with a very light touch, and has moments of great lyricism and visual flair.