Two boys dream of escaping the inexorable poverty of Brazil’s arid northeast in Jean-Pierre Duret and Andrea Santana’s finely crafted docu “Because We Were Born.” The helmers struck gold with their subjects, a couple of kids so self-aware, with their eyes firmly fixed on fleeing the cycle of impoverishment, that at times auds might even forget they’re watching the real McCoy. Pic’s launch at the Venice festival may have minimized the attention it garnered as it may have gotten lost among the large number of films showing there, but screenings at smaller fests and on Euro cable should reap greater rewards.
Docu forms a trilogy with the helmers’ earlier works, “Tales of Earth and Water” and “The Dream of Sao Paulo,” which also focused on residents of Brazil’s destitute northeast dreaming of a better life. In contrast to the larger cast of characters in the previous docus, here the directors concentrate on just two, Nero, 13, and Cocada, 14.
Nero lives with his mother, Inacia, a woman ground down by poverty, bad men and nine (soon to be 10) children. Though stern, Inacia recognizes Nero’s intelligence and appears to be deliberately firm to ensure he has the emotional tools to better himself.
Both boys hang out around a gas station, begging for food and cash and occasionally sleeping in the rigs. Cocada’s dream is to become a truck driver, a literal vision of escape. In this he has two role models: his encouraging uncle, a brick-maker whose hard work barely earns him enough to survive, and Mineiro, a kindly trucker offering fatherly spiritual guidance and support.
What sets these two kids apart from your average guttersnipe (if there is one) is their extraordinary focus on the future. Combining an almost disturbing maturity with normal childishness, these two, clinging to each other for support, know the path to oblivion is just a small slip away. What average 13-year-old can verbalize, “We have to leave, to know ourselves better”?
As with their previous docu, Duret (an ace sound technician) and Santana keep a silent political commentary running: It’s election time, and President Lula campaigns along with various local politicos, but it’s painfully clear that the promises made, and the claims of solidarity, last only as far as the ballot box.
Helmers use a controlled cinema-verite style featuring strong visuals, though editing could be a bit tighter. Through closeups of insect-ridden dead and dying animals, the two underline the sense of festering decay and the difficulty of breaking free from this environment of poverty.