Lower City (Cidade Baixa) (R)
Drama 100 June 16, 2006
With his first fiction feature, Sergio Machado makes a thorough study of the Brazilian ghetto, from a bloody cockfight to strip clubs, whorehouses, low-rent boxing gyms, back-alley sex, and late-night holdups. In what has become the template for exportable Brazilian films, Machado's imagery is saturated with the high-contrast colors of rotten fruit, and the grungy lowlife is never less than convincing. Such conscientious misery might sustain us for a few minutes, but Lower City is a bone-tired tale underneath: Two lifelong compadres both become infatuated with a hooker and eventually square off against each other. The tiny arc of Machado's screenplay is as old as the Hollywood Hills: The loss of mano a mano camaraderie is a tragedy no woman is worth. Indeed, the boys are full of physical love for each other, plummeting the movie right into the gay-subtext rabbit hole (where the woman is an evil seductress painfully deterring the queer heroes from their true nature) that fully realized characters and a ceiling on clichés might've saved us from.