Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Fathered by strangers, abandoned by their mothers, thrown away by society, the children of "Pixote" live by their wits on the cruel streets of Sao Paolo in Brazil. They improvise their own families, forming shifting alliances based on need, fear and even love. Their economy is based on the only two markets open to them, those for sex and drugs. Many of them are so young, they only vaguely understand sex; they are hardened to sights and experiences they even don't comprehend.
Hector Babenco's 1981 film was created in the spirit of Italian neo-realism; his child actors are the real thing, discovered in the streets and essentially playing themselves. The adult characters are mostly played by professional actors, but these performances coming from completely different backgrounds seem to feed from the same desperation. There is no answer to the problem of the millions of homeless children, no remedy, no hope. It is not surprising to learn that Fernando Ramos da Silva, the illiterate 11-year-old who plays Pixote, returned to the streets and was killed by police bullets in 1987.
The movie is told in a loosely structured, episodic style. Not every scene pays off neatly or makes a smooth connect with the next one. The jagged tone seems appropriate for these lives, which have no continuity, no balance point, no reason for something to happen today, tomorrow or ever.
In a society of children and adolescents who have no homes and no money, crime is the natural way of survival, but they're not very good at it (the gangs in "City of God," made 20 years later, are much more sophisticated). Their approach to crime, as to life, is thoughtless improvisation; they respond to situations, but have no control over them. We sense that Babenco isn't leading his characters but following them, and scenes don't always have a point or a purpose because neither do these lives.