Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lower City

One of the most nauseating trends in modern discourse is the term "bro", as it applies to male friendship. Giving the concept of male friendship it's own special term was completely unnecessary - men have been friends since the beginning of time, why does it need a cutesy term now? - and more importantly, the term used was chosen for pun potential more than anything. If someone says "bromance", they should be drawn and quartered, that's just how it is. Annoyingly, there's a phrase which actually describes the overall message of this movie quite well, but I will not employ it here, as if I did, I'd have to kill myself from the shame.

Lower City is about an attractive young prostitute named Karinna, played by Alice Braga. One day, she needs a ride to a nearby town, so she enlists the services of best friends forever Deco (Lazaro Ramos) and Naldino (Wagner Moura). Being an attractive prostitute, she pays for her ride the only way she knows how, by treating the boys to a lovely evening full of indifferently shot sex scenes. Eventually, this leads to much better shot sex scenes, which are cleverly used to indicate the growing lust between Karinna and the two men. While at the beginning, the friends would be willing to take a knife to the lower abdomen for each other, eventually the lady of easy virtue comes between them.

This is from Brazil, which has become the most reliable movie producing nation in the world. I have no idea how they do it, but I have yet to see a bad movie from the country. This, naturally, is no exception, the exploration of sexual politics is absolutely fantastic, in pretty much the same way that every other Brazilian film I've seen is fantastic. It's beautifully shot, using the camera in unexpectedly clever ways, as already mentioned with the progressively better sex scenes, and also an amazing dance sequence which pretty much sums up the entire film. It captures a place, a time, and the heat of the area.

Two things stand out above all else. One, I love how unpredictable it is. This isn't to say all actions don't flow naturally from others, but it doesn't follow any sort of formula, and it is almost impossible to predict what is going to happen next. Yet, the overall story is subtly foreshadowed throughout. You know essentially what is going to happen, but how it's going to happen is a complete mystery.

Another high point is the acting. Between the three leads, they have managed to tell entire films worth of stories with their eyes, conveying more emotion in one close up than some actors will do in their entire careers. Braga manages to make her character seem ultimately sympathetic in spite of turning two best friends on each other. Moura and Ramos seem to have given their characters lengthy and fully formed internal lives far beyond what any script could convey, just through the strength of their performances. The last scene, which consists almost entirely silent of closeups, is jaw dropping emotion and power.

It's got sex, violence, violent sex and sexy violence, and it all comes together in one of the most complete looks at the tricky politics of a love triangle I have ever seen. It doesn't try to make any of the characters remotely sympathetic - there are a series of dick moves on all sides - but you can understand the actions everyone takes, from the first scene right up until the credits roll.

After a run of movies with questionable approaches to interesting subjects, it's nice to see one where everything is bang on. It's a rare picture that I can't imagine how it could be improved, and as this little project continues into the future, I can honestly say that after this, I hope to see every single person involved in this production somewhere else (though the female lead was in City of God as Anjelica, and the two men both showed up in Carandiru). Everyone here was firing on all cylinders, and as a result it's an absolute winner.

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