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Who Killed Pixote?

Fernando Ramos da Silva Cassiano Carneiro Cida Luciana Rigueira

Fernando Ramos da Silva Cassiano Carneiro Cida Luciana Rigueira

With: Joana Fomm, Tuca Andrada, Roberto Bomtempo, Paulo Betti, Maria Luiza Mendonca, Antonio Petrim, Antonio Abujamra.

Who Killed Pixote?” is a disappointing dramatic reconstruction of the turbulent life and untimely death of child actor Fernando Ramos da Silva, who achieved instant celebrity in his first movie, “Pixote,” Hector Babenco’s hearbreaking expose about poor children in Sao Paulo. A missed opportunity to make a powerful drama about Brazil’s underprivileged class, new film is directed in an over-the-top tabloid style, unlikely to appeal even to “Pixote’s” most devoted fans. Pic may travel the international festival road as a curio item, based on Babenco’s well-respected movie, but prospects for theatrical release are meager.

Ramos da Silva (Cassiano Carneiro), a working-class boy in Sao Paulo, was only 11 when director Babenco cast him in the title role of “Pixote” (1980), a haunting film about children forced to become street criminals. The movie won numerous prizes, including citations for best foreign film from both the N.Y. and L.A. film critics, gaining the boy an instant international celebrity.

Sadly, his fame and success were fleeting, for he managed to make only one film despite ambitious dreams “to make it big” as a movie star. According to this biodrama, the uneducated Fernando had trouble reading the few scripts he was sent, and his one effort at appearing in a popular soap ended disastrously.

Navigating between Fernando’s public and private personas, “Who Killed Pixote?” places his tragedy within the context of misery, poverty and injustice in which he and his large family lived. Resented by his brutish elder brother for being the favorite child, Fernando was subjected to humiliation — at home he was called “the poor man’s James Dean” — even though for a short period of time he was the sole provider.

With limited prospects for a brighter future, Fernando apparently was dragged into a world of petty crime by his brothers. In 1987, he was caught by police during a burglary. Sent to prison, he began getting unexpected visits from an admiring fan, Cida(Luciana Rigueira), who later became his loyal wife. Unable to support her and their newborn daughter, Fernando sank deeper and deeper into depression and crime.

Based on Fernando’s life, as recounted in Brazilian journalist Jose Loureiro’s expose “Pixote, the Law of the Strongest” and his widow’s memoirs, “Who Killed Pixote?,” the film points a finger at the police force, and one officer in particular.

It’s hard to gauge how accurate the screen portrait is, though the drama is too movieish and replete with cliches to register strongly.

Pic covers a lot of territory, but despite ample time, it’s a bit superficial.

Despite honorable intentions and an interesting life to relate, “Pixote” is not touching. The film is constantly on the verge of hysteria, with sequence after sequence ending with characters sobbing or screaming at each other. This is also reflected in the acting: Young thesps Carneiro and Rigueira render emotionally raw, but ultimately not very inspiring performances, which works against the overall effect of a film that suffers from unbridled melodramatics.

Who Killed Pixote?

(QUEM MATOU PIXOTE?)

Production: (BRAZILIAN) A Coeves Films production. Produced by Alvarina Souza Silva, Paulo Halm, Jose Joffily. Directed by Jose Joffily. Screenplay, Halm, Joffily, based on the books "Pixote, the Law of the Strongest" by Jose Loureiro and "Who Killed Pixote?" by Cida Venancio da Silva.

Crew: Camera (color), Nonato Estrela; editor, Vera Freire; music, David Tygel, Mauricio Masetro. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival, Aug. 29, 1996. (Also in AFI/L.A. fest.) Running time: 120 MIN.

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