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
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
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