Lower City
(Cidade Baixa)

lower city

Lower City (Cidade Baixa)
Made in: Brazil
Language: Portuguese
Director: Sérgio Macado
Starring: Alice Braga, Lázaro Ramos, Wagner Moura
Year: 2006

Synopsis: Deco (Lázaro Ramos) and his best friend Naldinho (Wagner Moura) own a small, rusty old boat in Salvador, Brazil, where they manage to scrape together a living by transporting small cargo. One day, Deco and Naldinho meet Karinna (Alice Braga), a stripper/prostitute whom they agree to take back to Salvador in exchange for her "services."

But the two guys start bonding with Karinna, and their friendship soon becomes threatened when they both realize they can't keep their hands off her (then who's steering the boat?). Karinna's seedy job, combined with the fact that she's selling herself to nasty men all the time, only exacerbate the jealous feelings that eventually consume Deco and Naldinho. Shouting, drinking, sex, fist-fights, and drug use ensue.

The Good: Lower City certainly achieves the look and feel of a gritty, urban drama that ought to be filled with raw emotion and realism. Alice Braga and her co-stars do a great job, and the first half-hour of the movie is very compelling.

The Bad: However, the rest of the story tends to drag and the story becomes unfocused. The characters become involved in other sub-plots, and although any one of them could have been developed into its own movie, they don't do much to tie the story together.

But I think the biggest flaw here is the lack of emotional connection with the protagonists. That's not to say you won't care about happens to them, but it seems as though Lower City depends too much on the viewers' "textbook understanding" of urban poverty instead of presenting characters that we can identify with.

Of course we know that Deco and Naldinho are desperate for better pay and a good shower. Of course we know that Karinna wants a life that doesn't involve taking off her clothes all the time.

But that's too general.

We need to see something specific in these characters that make us want to root for them. Instead, we're treated to series of depressing scenes involving Alice Braga's character being passed around a bunch of guys as emotional outbursts from the other protagonists predictably follow.

Who would like this movie: Since Alice Braga gets naked a lot in this movie, I'd recommend this one to fans of foreign films who are experiencing internet problems and need their porn fix. Just kidding.

But really, those expecting a film on par with City of God are in for a disappointment. Although all the pieces are in place for a solid drama of that caliber, in the end, Lower City largely fails to capitalize on its potential.

(2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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