A stylish Brazilian gangster movie with a lot of energy, “Belly Up” runs through genre cliches in the amusingly unexpected setting of the Brazil-Paraguay border. Directing his first feature, Beto Brant shows a talent for using camera and editing to keep the story loping along. This is a borderline fest film that might be better served up as commercial fare in related markets. Brant is worth keeping an eye on.
Alfredo (Wolney de Assis), an aging career hit man, tells most of the story in flashback to a young car thief (Murilo Benicio) who has recently been promoted to hired killer by the boss (Adriano Stuart). While they wait in a seedy bar for a contact who never shows up, Alfredo reminisces about his dead buddy, the legendary Paraguayan killer Mucio (Chico Diaz).
Mucio, who looks like a Latino version of Willem Dafoe, is a lean, nervous type who rose from looking after the girls in a brothel to being a ruthless gun for hire. He meets his end when he gets involved with the boss’s lusty wife (Maria Padilha). At pic’s end, the killers are pitted against each other by the diabolical boss, and have to decide where their loyalties lie.
The action takes place in a dusty border town and in tawdry bars and hotels. Helping the story come to life are fine characterizations from principals Diaz and de Assis, tough-as-nails killers with a human face. A scene in which Mucio goes over to Alfredo’s for Sunday dinner with the family has an everyday surrealism about it that is subtly funny. But lest viewers get too cozy with the killers, Brant shows them shooting a peasant defending his land in cold blood.
Tech credits are fine for a low-budgeter.