Football fans all around the world gathered in 2014 summer in Rio for the World Cup (on which Brazil suffered a historic loss). Even before the initiation of the World Cup, protests erupted in Rio’s streets on the expended public funds for the games, while nearly 30 percent of Brazilian citizens live in harsh conditions & poverty. Now, the country is charged up to host the world’s biggest public sporting spectacle, the Olympics (in 2016). But, starting from 2012, a lot of incendiary articles were written on how thousands of people living in poor urban areas of Rio were forcefully evicted to make way for stadiums, five star hotels. While developers hailed the government’s decision of eviction as symbol for modernization, nearly 170,000 Brazilians without housing viewed Olympics 2016 as a dreadful event.
Hector Babenco’s brilliant dramas “Pixote” (1981) and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1985) vividly detailed the poverty and police brutality of the Latin American nation, but the one movie known by all movie buffs for shedding light on the rampant corruption and injustice, prevalent in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, is Fernando Meirelles “City of God” (2002). More recently, a brilliant character and class study, “Neighboring Sounds” (2012) subtly showcased the two faces of Brazilian life –a place of carnival, rich folk tradition and a place of oppression. Despite knowing about Brazil’s oppressive history and the country’s revelatory masterpiece flicks, the first thought that might across your mind on seeing the poster of Stephen Daldry’s “Trash” (2014) is that it’s a melodramatic under-dog story. The trailer itself was so cheesy and never intriguing. However, Daldry’s doesn’t get stuck in the feel-good muck, thanks to the trio of wonderful performances from the native teenagers.
“Trash” is based on Andy Mulligan’s novel, but the author never named the location of his story. Mulligan stated that he was inspired to write the novel based on what he saw in the dump-site in Manila, but he deliberately left out the location, because he felt that corruption, child labor, and poverty exists in every country in the world. Daldry after considering the recent allegations surrounding Olympics 2016 might have thought that it would be timely to move the story’s location to Brazil. The narrative is designed like a mystery as Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura) after burying his nine year old child hurriedly packs to leave the house. But, he is cornered by the cops and Angelo throws his large wallet into a passing rubbish truck.
The wallet is disovered by fourteen year old rag-picker, Rafael (Rickson Tevez). He shows the wallet to his friend Gardo (Eduardo Luis), which contains a wad of cash, a key, an animal lottery, and a flip-book photo of a little girl. Soon, the police scan the slums to find the wallet and even offer a hefty reward for finding the wallet. Gardo suggests Rafael to return it and get the money, but the curious Rafael wants to find out about the key. The duo rope in outcast, sewer kid Rado (Gabriel Weinstein) to crack the mystery of wallet. The key leads the trio to a railway station locker. A litany of corrupt policemen on the command of a sinister mayor candidate is on the boys’ tail looking for what they have found out. In their dangerous journey, the boys seek the help of a American pastor Julliard (Martin Sheen) and a volunteer teacher Olivia (Rooney Mara).
Considering the mystery plot, Daldry doesn’t go for the docu-drama like presentation of the life in favelas (like in “Pixote” or “Salaam Bombay”), but there is enough perilousness to engage us on the plight of trio of youngsters. As a film-maker Daldry is often accused for crafting melodramatic, Oscar baits (“The Hours”, “The Reader”, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”), but we couldn’t deny his singular great skill, which is bringing out luminous performance out of young untrained actors (which was evident from his directorial debut “Billy Elliott”). The exuberant energy of the three boys, especially Tevez’s, alone makes us believe in their quest, although Daldry and writer Richard Curtis doesn’t give us a convincing answer on why all the three boys agree to run down the hazarous path.
Richard Curtis’ script hinges on sentimentality, but there aren’t many cheesy moments. The white-skinned patriarchal priest and matriarchal teacher are the cliched characters, especially in these kinds of slum crime/dramas. But, Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara have performed well despite the limitations of their character. Curtis imparts lot of information about the mystery half away through the movie, but still he keeps the narrative engaging. The ending couldn’t be just named ‘optimistic’ because from a thematic standpoint it offers trite answer to very complex problem. Although tossing the money in the end makes some kind of a statement, the boys holding up on sunny beach-side feels totally inorganic. But, if you enjoy feel-good endings for such gritty movies, you could ignore these flaws.
The favela crime/drama “Trash” (113 minutes) consists of many familiar and contrived elements, but the elated performances of the three teenagers makes this a highly engaging and entertaining movie.