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MARCH

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ONGOING --Animation Block
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NYC Film Festivals

Every Pixote Tells a Story

The doomed one: Fernando Ramos da Silva with Marília Pêra in Pixote

By S.T. VanAirsdale

MoMA's annual Premiere Brazil! series -- a co-presentation with the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival -- launched last night in midtown with a pair of hotly awaited new films from auteurs Tata Amaral (Antônia) and Beto Brant (Stray Dog). The short The Tarantino Code unites a pair of film geeks on an alcohol-fueled philosophical quest to break down the filmmaker's work, and upcoming highlights include the music docs AfroReggae: No Reason Explains the War and Fabricating Tom Ze and director Ricardo Elias' updating of Hercules, The Twelve Labours.

Perhaps the standout selections of the program, however, are Hector Babenco's 1981 landmark Pixote: The Law of the Weakest and its 2005 companion doc Pixote in Memoriam. Like another, far lighter film also enjoying a revival this weekend in New York, Pixote looks and feels like it could have been made this morning; its tale of the titular 12-year-old orphan (hauntingly played by Fernando Ramos da Silva) coming of age as a thief, drug dealer and eventual killer in the slums of São Paulo yields the same withering shock as it did during its sensational release 26 years ago. Not that I was around then, of course, but that's where Pixote in Memoriam comes in.

A thoroughly engrossing if technically unremarkable documentary, the film by Felipe Brisso and Gilberto Topczewski starts from the beginning of the Pixote saga -- literally from Babenco's grim original introduction of the first film -- and weaves its way through an oral history almost as unbelievable as the social horrors that spawned the story: The casting of broken-footed da Silva as the lone street kid among trained actors; the surrogate family that developed among its young stars; the backstories behind its staggering climax and how Babenco shot authentic robberies in broad daylight; and Pixote's accidental American success after a print declined by the Cannes Film Festival found critical traction in New York.

The filmmakers also note the ways Pixote's international acclaim (and profit) trickled down to few of the actors -- none more so than da Silva, whose ownership of the role in Brazil's consciousness earned him the unwanted persona that drove him, too, to drugs, crime and an early death at 19. His passing in 1987 is depicted as a national tragedy; his mother's mourning nearly 20 years later summons a bitter resolve that marks a direct contrast to Babenco's matter-of-fact resignation. Spike Lee, Julian Schnabel and Nick Cave contribute their own eulogies, but they're cosmetic cameos against the testimony of the supporting cast and behind-the-scenes functionaries. For the sheer power of its cinema and cultural histories, this is the weekend's must-see twofer.

Pixote: The Law of the Weakest and Pixote in Memoriam screen Saturday at MoMA; separate admission is required for each film. They return July 22. For more information about the films and Premiere Brazil!, visit the festival's Web page.

Posted at July 13, 2007 10:50 AM

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