Director: Hector Babenco
Production: H. B. Filmes Embrafilme; Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 127 minutes. Released 26 September 1980. Filmed in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Producers: Paolo Francini and José Pinto; screenplay: Hector Babenco, Jorge Duran, based on the novel A Infacias dos Mortos by José Louzeiro; photography: Rodolfo Sanchez; editor: Luiz Elias; assistant director: Maria Cecilia M. de Barros, Fatima Toledo; art director: Clovis Bueno; music: John Neschling; sound editor: Hugo Gama; sound recording: Francisco Carneiro.
Cast: Fernando Ramos da Silva ( Pixote ); Jorge Juliao ( Lilica ); Gilberto Moura ( Dito ); Edilson Lino ( Chico ); Zenildo Oliveira Santos ( Fumaca ); Claudio Bernardo ( Garotao ); Israel Feres David ( Roberto pede Iata ); José Nilson Martin Dos Santos ( Diego ); Marilia Pera ( Sueli ); Jardel Filho ( Sapatos Brancos—The Inspector ); Rubens de Falco ( Judge ); Elke Maravilha ( Debora ); Tony Tornado ( Cristal ); Beatriz Segall ( The Widow ); Joao Jose Pompeu ( Almir ); Aricle Perez ( The Teacher ); Isadora de Farias ( The Psychologist ).
New York Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Film, 1981; Los Angeles Film
Critics Award for Best Foreign Film, 1981; National Society of Film
Critics Award for Best Actress (Marilia Pera), 1981; Locarno Festival
Silver Leopoard Award, 1981; San Sebastian Festival Special Mention
Pereira, Edmar, Jornal da Tarde (Sao Paulo), 19 September 1980.
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* * *
Pixote a lei do mais fraco directed by Hector Babenco, is one of those films whose subject matter has so escaped the darkness of the projection room as to make it impossible to comment on it merely in terms of filmmaking. Pixote's story continued, a painful and foretold tragedy, for seven years, until its dreadful epilogue.
The launch of Pixote (the word means "urchin") in 1980 hit the public like a mule's kick by addressing the shocking reality— couched in scenes of raw beauty—of one of Brazil's most serious social problems, that of abandoned children, of which there are several million in the country. The international recognition of Pixote (voted the third best foreign film of the 1980s by the magazine American Film ) confirmed that Hector Babenco had conceived an outstanding film about violated youth and the painful loss of innocence, ranked with Vittorio de Sica's Ladri di biciclette and Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados. Hector Babenco, born in Argentina, resident in Brazil since the late 1960s, found inspiration for Pixote in A Infância dos Mortos (The Infancy of the Dead) by José Lonzeiro. With Pixote —which followed O Rei da Noite (1976) and Lucio Flávio, O Passageiro da Agonia (1977), a huge box office success— Babenco consolidates what would become his dominant theme: people living on the fringes of society, treading the fine line between petty crime and considerable risk. The theme is resumed in his later films, The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ironweed , and At Play in the Fields of the Lord. The underprivileged communities living on the outskirts of São Paulo provided the cast for the film: dozens of poor and ostracized youngsters, none of whom had ever acted before. Among them was Fernando Ramos da Silva, who lived with eight brothers and his widowed mother in a São Paulo shanty town. Slightly built, shy and, as Babenco put it, "with an old man's face" Fernando was 11 years old when filming began on Pixote. His poignant acting is a mixture of naiveté and fear, his expressions bore the cares of the world. His face became a symbol for what he was and what he represented: the drama of the abandoned child. The film was "universal in its grief," according to the author of the book on which it was based.
Following the trajectory of Pixote—first in a police station, then in a reformatory, and finally on the streets of Rio and São Paulo—the film plunges deep into the world of abandoned Brazilian youth. Pixote witnesses and is a product of the three-fold collapse which is the root cause of the tragedy of street children: the breakdowns of the family unit, the social services and the institutions. The children and adolescents have on their side one paradoxical guarantee: that of exemption from the punitive aspects of the law until they reach official adulthood at the age of 18. This impunity also makes them ideal as apprentice criminals, especially under the tutelage of fully blown adult drug runners.
The sordid environment of the reformatory is the back drop for the initial part of the film; to the insensitive attitude of those in authority is added the impotence of those who wish to help (teachers and psychologists). Only the very strong can survive the situation, where solidarity and sadism set the tone.
Hector Babenco did not recoil at revealing the atrocities of the environment—sexual abuse, police violence, early contact with drugs. However, he still manages, despite the ugliness and degradation, to produce scenes of great poetry. An example is the scene where Pixote tries to follow a football match and darts and pokes his head around the body of the woman who is cutting his hair. Later, in the classroom, he laboriously writes "the earth is round like an orange," his face is viewed close-up while he mutters the words he is writing.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of the reformatory, accentuated by cold, blue lighting, gives way to the colours of the streets of São Paulo and Rio. After fleeing the reformatory, Pixote, the youngest boy, forms a little gang with three friends, one of whom is a transvestite, Lilica (played by the excellent Jorge Julião). Having made contact with a cocaine dealer, the little gang departs for Rio to sell the drugs; increasing violence culminates in Pixote committing his first murder. His encounter with the prostitute Sueli (Marilia Pera in an outstanding performance) figures among the most significant scene in any or all Brazilian films: having killed his customer and his friend, Pixote suckles at the breast of the prostitute, who had aborted a few days previously, in a poignant allusion to the Pietá. The conclusion of the scene probes the heavy ambiguity of the prostitute in relation to motherhood.
Notwithstanding the Cinema Novo's awareness of social concerns, Hector Babenco opted for a straightforward narrative in Pixote , in which the camera restricts itself to depicting scenes and situations and, above all, their effect on the characters. The pace is sustained by the careers of the boys themselves and the tragedy stamped on the faces of these youthful crooks; tension is provided by the awfulness of some of the scenes and by the hopelessness of the children's lot. Babenco was remorselessly realistic in his portrayal, while remaining sympathetic in his search for lost innocence. Not wishing to produce a documentary about street children, nor attempting to identify social causes for the problem, Babenco stated that he "used the reality as a trampoline in trying to find the human being inside every juvenile offender."
Early in the film, Babenco shows hundreds of "Pixotes," slowly homing in on the group whose progress he would follow, and gradually narrowing his sights on Pixote. At the end of the film, Pixote, who carries the weight of three murders on his childish shoulders, walks alone down the railway track, a revolver his sole companion.
Fernando Ramos da Silva tried to pursue a career as an actor, following the success of Pixote , but his stardom was short-lived. Once again on the road to nowhere, through total lack of prospects, he ran into trouble with the authorities, and was shot dead by the police in 1987, at the age of 19. He fulfilled the destiny of the Pixote of the film; but, more tragically, that of the many Pixotes in true life, also. Fernando Ramos da Silva became Pixote—on screen and in true life—forever.