Finding the Villain in Pixote

Para la versión en español, clickea aquí

Synopsis

Pixote (1981) follows a young boy who is rounded up by the police and placed at a reformatory. While there, he faces abuse from adults and kids alike, but when his friend is murdered by one of the adults, he and his friends decide to escape before they are unjustly framed. Once out, they are confronted with violence, drug deals, and prostitution. One by one, they either leave or get killed until Pixote is alone.

The Brazilian Dictatorship 1964-1981

Military Coup (1964)

With President Goulart exiled in Uruguay, the military decided that they needed to take over as a matter of national security. They initiated Operacão Limpeza (Operation Cleanup) which consisted of arresting and imprisoning union activists, student leaders, and left-wing politicians. Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco was the first president of the regime. Under his rule, he declared that all political parties were to be dissolved and replaced with new ones and only military leaders could be political candidates. By the time Artur da Costa e Silva became president in 1967, he was promising to humanize the revolution. This was far from the truth. He suspended the constitution, dissolved congress, and imposed harsh censorship laws. These would be cemented when President Medici stepped in in 1969. Under him, there were much more search and arrests, torture sessions, and death squads. Luckily for him, these human rights violations were glossed over by the fact that Brazil were World Cup champions, there was a lot of foreign investment, and the economy had taken off in what would be known as the “Brazilian Miracle”. 

Pele Scores the Winning Goal in the 1970 World Cup

Ernesto Geisel became president in 1974, but he was less of a hardliner than Medici. He initially encouraged civilian participation and instated direct elections for congress. Unfortunately, those elections worked against his favor and the anti-government party, MDB, increased its numbers. Geisel then promptly restricted access to the media for candidates, set up indirect elections, and directly appointed senators. Dissatisfaction with the regime reached a high during his term since the 1973 oil crisis hit Brazil hard, thereby ending the “Brazilian Miracle”. When João Figuereido became president in 1979, he put an end to the regime and announced an “abertura”.  He gave amnesty to all those who had been accused of political crimes since 1961, ended censorship, and established direct elections for 1981. That same year, Pixote, was released, making it one of the first Brazilian films to criticize the institutional corruption and torture that had plagued its citizens since 1964.

Pixote’s World

Fernando Ramos da Silva

Pixote was originally intended to be a documentary about a reformatory and was inspired by the novel, Infancia dos Mortos. After researching further on the atrocities of the Brazilian government, Hector Babenco, the director, started to shape the film into a more dramatic narrative. At this time, Brazilian law prevented minors from being prosecuted for criminal offenses. This put children in a strange position as they were often preyed upon by older criminals to commit crimes free of consequence. Though, this did not mean children didn’t suffer. The film drew great inspiration from the Camanducaia incident in which dozens of imprisoned minors were taken from Rio de Janeiro jails and dumped over a cliff near Camanducaia. Babenco also used real street kids as actors and even allowed for them to give input on directions for the scenes. Unfortunately, the success of Pixote could not save its star, Fernando Ramos da Silva. It seemed art was imitating life as he was constantly dogged by authorities until he was tragically killed in a police shootout at 19. Brazilian police claim it was self-defense, but that is not widely believed.

Criminality & Voyeurism

Pixote

The first scene in the film connects criminality with voyeurism. It opens on a TV playing an action film and then slowly pans to reveal that the kids in the room are all fighting. Babenco establishes that everything these kids see has to be immediately replicated. This action is repeated throughout the film. The first crime we see in the film is a sexual assault by a group of boys in the reformatory. After watching this scene, the camera pans over to Pixote’s bed to find that he is watching the entire event. When Pixote and his friends finally escape, their crimes are voyeuristic. They watch a prostitute pick up men and when the men are at their most vulnerable, they rob him at gunpoint. Though Pixote doesn’t just equate criminality and voyeurism, it dissects it. Aren’t we voyeurs getting a thrill out of watching this violence as well? Maybe we need to dissect our role in perpetuating and celebrating this violence?

Is There a Way Out?

Pixote

This cycle of violence and its perpetrators is questioned in the film. The subject of change is discussed once the boys have gotten out and are enjoying an afternoon on the beach. Pixote and another younger boy are confident that once they turn 18, they’ll change. Their trans friend Lilica on the other hand knows that she will be caught up in the system her whole life. These kids have no one that can help them find a way out. All of the adults turn their back on them. Pixote tries to find comfort in the prostitute, Sueli, by sucking at her breast and she initially accepts him. Unfortunately, when he won’t let go, she rejects him, motherhood, and tells him to leave. What could we have expected? In the first scene where Pixote met her, she showed him the fetus she had just aborted into the trash can. She was never going to be able to accept anyone as her own child. I believe Babenco is making a point about the ills that have yet to be wiped clean by the abertura. With the bad actors of the dictatorship still influencing the youth of Brazil, how can there be any hope for change? Pixote gives an intimate and realistic look at the lives of juvenile delinquents and the ways the Brazilian government continues to fail them.

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