- Movie Rating -

Pixote (1981)

| September 18, 1981

I once heard an interview with a retired judge who had spent more than four decades in the family court in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama describe the molding of a child to be something like the care and sculpting of a budding plant.  “The child must be pruned and cultivated and cared for, otherwise it grows wild like a weed that becomes unmanageable.”

I thought of the judge’s words while watching Pixote, an extraordinary drama about street kids who grow wild on the mean streets of Sao Paulo in Brazil.  They have no cultivation, no pruning, no lesson, no boundary or structure to guide them.  They are homeless.  Many come from broken homes, have no mothers, certainly no fathers, and have been tossed away by an indifferent social structure that either will not or cannot deal with them as individuals. 

Hector Babenco’s film spends time with a group of these kids.  They are not actors but real street kids put before the camera.  Most notable is the presence of Fernando Ramos da Silva in the title role whose face is scarred by what he has experience but still fresh enough that you can see the potential for wonderment in his eyes.  He, like most of the kids in this film, have been brought into the world by carelessness and raised in indifference.  They form bonds with one another out of need, safety or a skewed definition of something called love.  Many don’t understand the world in which they exist and the moral structures under which we live our lives is a foreign concept to them.  Their economic system is borne almost exclusively out of crime, either drugs or sex or street crimes like armed robbery or pickpockets.

The film is created in the Italian Neorealist style of films of the 1950s like The Bicycle Thief and Rome: Open City, films that are set against the plight of the poor and the working class, using non-professional actors and focusing on their difficult economic situation and revealing the reasons behind their poverty, their oppression and the cycle of hopelessness that keeps it going.  Pixote is very good at reminding us that this kind of generational poverty and desperation among pre-teen street children is a problem that simply cannot be solved.

The thing that I appreciated most about this film is that Babenco more or less stays out of the way.  He doesn’t direct the film so much as let his camera observe these kids and their world.  It has an episodic style that follows them through their days which are often random and lead to dangerous circumstances. One day flows into the next but without structure, without a plan, without continuity.  For them, it is simply survival.  What is amazing is that the kids here are so young that they have no real idea of how to even be a criminal.  They see something and they try to take it, but they aren’t professional criminals.  They aren’t sophisticated.  Sometimes they get caught and sometimes they do not.

There is something that passes for a plot here, but even that is loose in it’s structuring.  A judge is murdered and the police round up dozens of street kids fully with the intent of convicting at least one of them for the murder whether they committed the crime or not.  We assume that being under police custody would be better for them then life on the streets but the police themselves turn out to be just as cold and vicious as the randomness of the street life itself.  They are taken to a reformatory where the inside life is presented by prisoners who prey on one another and, in fact, Pixote witnesses the rape and murder of a young boy on the first night.

The anonymity of the people around Pixote is not completely left faceless.  We meet some of the kids and begin to recognize them: Dito, a stocky kid with his head of curly hair; Chico (Eldison Lino) who could have been a teen idol if circumstances were slightly altered; and Dito (Gilberto Moura), a transvestite too young to be charged with a sex crime.  They form a tight group probably not by choice but largely out of need and to form a tight defense, especially when they escape the reformatory through an open window.

Back on the streets, the kids continue the lives of randomness and survival, but somehow their circumstances have changed.  Their good fortune to stay together and to do what they have to do for basic survival turns on them and the second half of the movie is a slow decent into Hell and, for many, their own death.

But always in the middle is little Pixote, who doesn’t seem to have reached his 10th birthday, but has never had what anyone would call a childhood.  He’s a kid, a little person whose understanding of the world is hardened by cruelty and indifference.  He reminds us of ourselves in a certain way.  We are molded and cultivated like a little plant so that we will not grow wild like a weed, but he has no choice.  Motherless, fatherless, he grows into the world like a weed, moving in the direction that he must for his own survival.  Yet, the end of the movie is so sad, so meaningful and so symbolic of his age and his circumstances that we understand the he is a child and must be nurtured.  This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized