Over the years, Brazil has given us several neorealist dramas about youngsters trying to survive in the poverty-stricken favelas of Rio de Janeiro (City of God, 2002) and São Paulo (Pixote, 1981). The Rio-set Trash (opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday Oct. 9), proves there’s some life in the old genre yet – and suggests that little to nothing has been done of late to address the problems of Brazil’s stark inequality.
14-year olds Raphael (Rickson Tevez) and Gardo (Eduardo Luis) spend their days scavenging for recyclables on the massive dumping ground that abuts their favela. When the two friends discover a wallet stuffed with cash, it appears things are looking up for the lads – but this, of course, is no ordinary wallet.
Tossed into a passing garbage truck by a man subsequently arrested and tortured by the police, the wallet holds the secrets of a corrupt politician in the form of a lottery card, a key, a flip-book, a letter, and – least importantly – the aforementioned reals. The politician needs the wallet back, or his campaign for Mayor will likely come to naught.
Soon bent copper Federico (Brazil’s answer to Rutger Hauer, Selton Mello) is hot on their trail, and Raphael and Gardo must turn to sewer-dweller Rat (Gabriel Weinstein) to help them escape his clutches and learn the truth regarding the wallet’s contents.
At first, Trash seems to be a fairly typical piece of neo-realist cinema, but director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) clearly intended to reach a wider audience. Hence the casting of Americans Martin Sheen as Father Juilliard, the favela’s very own liberation theologian and priest, and Rooney Mara as Olivia, a rather ill-defined character we assume has been parachuted in by an NGO.
It’s a ploy that probably isn’t going to work, as neither character plays an essential role in the narrative – and neither actor is much of a box-office draw. And while Sheen chews the scenery as well as he ever has, the less said about Mara the better.
In an effort to keep things moving, Richard Curtis’s screenplay relies far too much on happy coincidence, but Raphael, Gardo and Rat are reasonably likeable ragamuffins and most viewers won’t be overly bothered by the script’s manifest flaws. Think of it, perhaps, as a less skilful variation on the Slumdog Millionaire trope, and you won’t be disappointed.
Also opening on Oct. 9 (at Landmark’s Opera Plaza in San Francisco — no East Bay dates are currently scheduled) is Shout Gladi Gladi, a documentary about women’s access to healthcare in Africa. Narrated by Meryl Streep, the film puts the focus on an important issue, but plays a bit too much like a vanity project for Scottish businesswoman and philanthoprist Ann Gloag.
When one realizes that Gloag – who features prominently in the film – also served as its executive producer, it becomes easy to dismiss what we’re seeing on the screen. Nonetheless, her foundation has improved the lives of many African women, so perhaps cynicism isn’t an entirely appropriate response to Shout Gladi Gladi.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
Want to know what else is going on in Berkeley and nearby? Visit Berkeleyside’s new-look Events Calendar. Submit your own events for free if they aren’t there already — and give them featured status for just a few dollars a day.