Criterion Prediction #201: Pixote, by Alexander Miller
Director: Hector Babenco
Cast: Fernando Ramos da Silva, Marília Pêra, Gilberto Moura, Jorge Julião, Tony Tornado, Beatriz Segall
Synopsis: Pixote faces the crisis that revolves around Brazil’s criminal laws regarding minors and the degradation that follows as a result of the failing judicial system, following ten-year-old Pixote, who is sent to a juvenile detention center where he endures torture from inmates and guards alike. Due to the dire circumstances, systematic abuse and gross negligence, Pixote flees with a few friends in tow, living on the streets, hustling and swindling to stay alive.
Critique: This is a pull-no-punches film. Babenco instills passion and fervor into every scene of this unrelenting saga but the motivated sincerity is so touching and authentic that Pixote leaves an unforgettable impression. Where so many socially conscious movies from the first world falter, Pixote excels in that it’s led by a director who, by happenstance or design, works in the mold of Italian neorealism. The cast is largely composed of non-professional actors, the scenes are shot mostly on location instead of sets and the mise en scene only flatters the gravity of each sequence. Pixotes starts brief and useful (in terms of context) introduction informing us on the statistics of Sao Paolo’s legal policies regarding minors. The damning statistics serve as an appropriately despondent forecast for the movie ahead of us. There’s a fluid spontaneity to the structure and tone of the film. The narrative is episodic. You can tell that Babenco’s technique works because he’s not ignoring the rules but instinctively eschewing them in favor of a naturalistic bent. There’s no anticipation or way to detect when the story is going to shift gears. The momentum affords us this reflexive structure, almost as if Pixote were inspired by real life. The folly of some filmmakers that fancy themselves as socially conscious (Larry Clarke with Kids, Paul Haggis with Crash, Inarritu with Babel) is the haughty moralizing. While some (aforementioned) directors like to bash you over the head, Babenco lands a blow like Bruce Lee. Before you know what’s happened, he’s already left a mark.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Like Oh, Sun! or The Boys From Fengkuei, Pixote is one of the many films lined up with Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. It’s been a couple years since Criterion released the second volume of said project. Whether or not Pixote gets a standalone release like The Color of Pomegranates, Black Girl or A Brighter Summer Day or is included in a collection, Pixote will be a stunning inclusion into the Criterion Collection.