Friday, December 02, 2005

LOWER CITY - a Brazilian tale of corrosive passion

I guess it is not particularly original to make a movie about how a beautiful woman can corrode male friendship, but LOWER CITY takes this hackneyed material to a higher level of brutalilty and intensity. The camerawork, acting and plot lines are not quite as searing as CITY OF GODS, but then why should they be? Instead of an epic tale, we have here a smaller character study which, compared to your average Hollywood fare, is a memorable and racy ride. The movie opens with a young, beautiful girl called Karinna. She is hitch-hiking her way to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil by whoring herself to men with boats and trucks. (The movie takes its title from the "Lower" part of that city.) Her first lift is with a couple of close friends, Deco and Naldinho and it is with these men that she will spend the rest of the film. While their first relations are commercial, as the film develops the sexual attraction and tension grows. Not least because, in the confined spaces that poverty inflicts upon these characters, two characters make love in front of another. The relationship settles into a seemingly workable menage a trois for a while, but the stability rests on a knife-edge. The boys slide into the territory of pimps, colluding in conning dumb-ass "clients" out of their money. But as the male possessive instinct is awakened and events take a turn for the worse, the movie races toward a brutal climax.

The movie is filmed on 16 mil but looks fantastic. It captures perfectly the claustrophobic small rented rooms and the seedy, heady atmosphere of sawdust bars and strip clubs. We would expect nothing less from a director - Sérgio Machado - who comes to film from a background in documentaries. Some of the most intense camerawork is of a brutal cock-fight. Animal-lovers who find this sort of thing distateful should beware, but also reassured that it is not gratuitous. The cock-fight between the black and white animals serves as a chilling metaphor for the relationship between the two male leads.

LOWER CITY showed at Cannes 2005 where it won the "award of the youth" and goes on limited release in the UK today. It opens in the US on June 16th and in France on June 28th 2006.

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