Brazilian director Hector Babenco, known in the US for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (for which William Hurt won the Best Actor Oscar), "Ironweed" (Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep), and "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," first gained international recognition with the film "Pixote." "Pixote" was named Best Foreign Film of the Year by the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, and numerous other organizations placed the film on their "top ten" lists as well. Based on the novel "Infancia Dos Mortos," "Pixote" is an often painful look at the plight of the more than three million homeless children in Brazil's slums. Despite the film's fictional source, Babenco found his cast in the streets, using mostly non-professional actors to play the roles in the feature.
The film begins with an introduction by Babenco; he describes the awful, sub-human standards of living for children in Brazil. The narrative part of "Pixote" begins with a police round-up of random street kids who, unfortunately, happened to be in the vicinity of an crime. Little 10-year-old Pixote (pronounced "pee-sho-tay"), wearing a leg cast for most of the movie, witnesses scenes of squalor and brutality that most Americans do not see in a lifetime. Kids grow up quickly in this part of the world.
The film is divided into two parts, with the reform school setting taking up the first half while the adventures of Pixote and Co. after their escape from the school take up the second half. Once they escape from the children's prison, Pixote and his friends act as pickpockets, and sometimes they snatch purses, wallets, and briefcases in broad daylight. Eventually, they hook up with a prostitute. Not much good comes to these unfortunates, mostly due to the fact that they feel so little hope and are so ill-equipped to deal with their problems.
The non-professional actors and the film stock make the feature feel like a documentary. You can see the desperation in the cast members eyes--it's as if they're just waiting for their misery to end. The life-is-art, art-is-life dynamic of the film casts a pall over the production. Fernando Ramas da Silva, who played Pixote, was killed by the police when he was only 19 years of age.
The picture, displayed in a 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) ratio, looks highly grainy. There is much video noise, and the video is blotched with numerous nicks and scratches. I've seen forty- and fifty-year-old prints look better than "Pixote," but I'm giving this DVD the benefit of the artistic doubt because the video's appearance actually enhances the gritty, "docudrama" feel of the subject matter.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (single channel doubled to the front left and right speakers) Portuguese track comes with the limitations of the mono format. Much static fills the speakers, and I could always hear the soft "buzz" that comes with lower-quality recording equipment. The sad, yearning music sounds strained, and dynamic range is limited. As with the video, I've heard much older films sound better than this DVD. English subtitles (defeatable) are available.
On the main menu page, highlighting the words "Hector Babenco" will take you to the bulk of the disc's extras. There are text pages for the director's biography, his filmography, and the film's production.
If you maneuver the cursor to highlight the "New Yorker Films" logo, you will gain access to trailers for "Nelly et M. Arnaud" (yay! one of my favorite films of all time) and "Loulou" as well as a couple of text pages outlining New Yorker Films's mission statement.
Oddly, the trailer for "Pixote" itself is not to be found on the disc.
I found "Pixote" to be unbearable at times--which is the point, given the subject matter. Like I wrote earlier, it's difficult sitting through a movie where kids of tender age are seen doing things even adults shouldn't do. Despite the critical acclaim for the film, though, the film feels as lumpy as the lives of its subjects. Still, Hector Babenco did the world a great service in drawing attention to the infinite sadness that greets Brazil's poor on a daily basis. It'll be worth your while to give "Pixote" a look--it'll open your eyes.