Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Pixote (Hector Babenco)

I've noticed a recurring pattern in a lot of movies I admire greatly, namely a cast made up of both professional and nonprofessional actors. There's a beautiful, ragged tension visible onscreen when someone with no acting experience mixes it up with a pro, a tension absent from slick, professional product like, say, a recent Woody Allen movie. In "Pixote," a movie about homeless children in Brazil, the adults are played by professional actors and the children are played by amateurs, many of them also homeless. I'll take these kids' sole performance in this film over the entire careers of most current Hollywood actors. Maybe most of the children are playing a variation of their own lives, but a connection to the material does not guarantee a good performance. These kids can act. They can act with their eyes, their hands, their eyebrows, their entire bodies. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore should watch this movie and then blow their brains out. It's a tough film, starting with no hope and working down deeper into hell from there, but it's a rich film, too, full of exposed-nerve performances and a story that starts in familiar territory before veering off into a cinematic world of its own.

In some ways, the film was a self-fulfilling prophecy for its star, Fernando Ramos Da Silva, a tiny kid with huge eyes that nail themselves into your subconscious. Da Silva wasn't homeless, but he was illiterate and living in a slum when he was cast as Pixote. Eleven years old at the time, he looked even younger. Riding a wave of fame after the film's success in Brazil, he joined the cast of a soap opera. Still illiterate, he was fired after being unable to memorize his scripts. He drifted into drugs and crime and was murdered by the police in 1987. Nick Cave dedicated the album "Tender Prey" to him.

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