! Critic Judy Stone
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Pixote is the name of a 10-year old boy in Brazil, but he could be a purse snatcher on the Muni or any U.S. streetcar. His fate is the subject of an extraordinarily haunting film "Pixote."

With incisive dramatic power, director Hector Babenco traces the steps in the hardening of a child. He takes that old familiar pattern — petty street crime, reform school, bad older company, sudden violence — and compels us to open our eyes, pay attention and see it in a fresh light.

How does a boy of 10 come to kill three people?

Babenco lays out the path unsentimentally, meticulously and with accelerating momentum. The reality, uncannily created by a non-professional cast of slum youngsters, is horrifying. But brutal as it may seem to a middle-class audience, Babenco has said that it only scratches the surface of the real thing.

We see that life through the unblinking eyes of Fernando Ramos da Silva, the astonishing youngster who plays Pixote with an innocent but battered face. His sad acceptance seems to reflect generations of resignation to harsh destiny.He is the smallest of the boys caught up in a police sweep of the streets, which are flooded with abandoned and neglected children. Three million of them are homeless in Brazil. Millions of other faceless ones suffer the neglect imposed by Brazil's "miracle," the sudden industrialization that takes their parents out of the home for a working day that may stretch to 14 or 15 hours. The kids' pals become their families, their substitutes for love.

They bring their passionate attachments and rough hostilities into the reform school, united by their distrust of the adult world. Pixote's education begins there. It continues in Sao Paulo and Rio when he and three older boys escape and are assigned to collect on a drug delivery. Under 18, they can't be prosecuted if they are caught.

In a uniquely compelling scene that seems to seal Pixote's fate, the glib label "rejected child" attains the full force of its heartbreaking dimensions.

"Pixote" takes its place alongside the great classics of childhood: Bunuel's "Los Olvidados," (The Young and the Damned) and Truffaut's "400 Blows." It is not a comforting work for those who would rather not think about the children we thoughtlessly consign to the scrap heap.

San Francisco Chronicle June 13, 1981