It is the chilling, documentary-like account of Brazil's delinquent youth and how they are used by corrupt police and other crime organizations to commit crimes. The film features Fernando Ramos da Silva (who was killed at the age of 19 by Brazilian police in São Paulo) as Pixote and Marília Pêra as Sueli. The plot revolves around Pixote, a young boy who is used as a child criminal in muggings and drug transport.
After a police round up of street children, Pixote is sent to a juvenile reformatory (FEBEM). The prison is a hellish school where Pixote uses glue sniffing as a means of emotional escape from the constant threats of abuse and rape.
It soon becomes clear that the young criminals are only pawns in the criminal, sadistic games of the prison guards and their commander.
When a boy dies of physical abuse by the guards, the officials frame (and ultimately kill) the lover of the transwoman known as Lilica (Jorge Julião) for the murder. Soon after, Pixote, Lilica and her new lover Dito (Gilberto Moura) find an opportunity to flee from the prison. First, they stay at the apartment of Cristal (Tony Tornado), a former lover of Lilica, but when tensions arise they go to Rio for a cocaine drug deal; there, however, they get duped by a showgirl.
After some time bumming around the city, Pixote and his friends go to a club for another drug deal. While there, Pixote finds the showgirl that took their drugs and stabs her.
They become pimps for the prostitute Sueli who is definitely past her prime and is ill—possibly from a botched abortion. The group conspires to rob her johns, but when Lilica's lover Dito falls for Sueli, Lilica leaves. The robbery scheme fails when an American john fights back (because he apparently does not understand Portuguese) so they have to shoot him. In the ensuing fight, Pixote accidentally shoots and kills Dito as well.
Pixote tries to gain comfort from Sueli, treating her as a mother figure, but she rejects him. He leaves and is seen walking down a railway line, gun in hand, away from the camera, his figure disappearing in the distance, out of the camera's view.Fernando Ramos da Silva as Pixote
Jorge Julião as Lilica
Gilberto Moura as Dito
Edilson Lino as Chico
Zenildo Oliveira Santos as Fumaça
Claudio Bernardo as Garatao
Israel Feres David as Roberto Pie de Plata
Jose Nilson Martin dos Santos as Diego
Marília Pêra as Sueli
Jardel Filho as Sapatos Brancos
Rubens de Falco as Juiz
Elke Maravilha as Debora
Tony Tornado as Cristal
Beatriz Segall as Widower
João José Pompeo as Almir
The movie is shot in the manner of a documentary and shows the strong influence by Italian neorealism in that amateur actors were used whose real lives strongly resembled those of the protagonists in the film.
It was filmed in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The film features several scenes of Rio's beaches. Historical places in São Paulo like 'Viaduto do Chá' and the statue 'Monumento às Bandeiras' (At the Ibirapuera Park) are seen throughout the film.
The film was first presented at the New York New Directors/New Films Festival on May 5, 1981. Later it opened on a limited basis in the United States on September 11, 1981.
The film was shown at various film festivals, including the San Sebastián International Film Festival, Spain; the Toronto Festival of Festivals, Canada; the Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland; and others.
Film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times, considers the film a classic, and wrote, "Pixote stands alone in Babenco's work, a rough, unblinking look at lives no human being should be required to lead. And the eyes of Fernando Ramos da Silva, his doomed young actor, regard us from the screen not in hurt, not in accusation, not in regret -- but simply in acceptance of a desolate daily reality."
Critic Pauline Kael was impressed by its raw, documentary-like quality, and a certain poetic realism. She wrote, "Babenco's imagery is realistic, but his point of view is shockingly lyrical. South American writers, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, seem to be in perfect, poetic control of madness, and Babenco has some of this gift, too. South American artists have to have it, in order to express the texture of everyday insanity."
The New York Times film critic, Vincent Canby, liked the neo-realist acting and direction of the drama, and wrote, "[Pixote], the third feature film by the Argentine-born Brazilian director Hector Babenco, is a finely made, uncompromisingly grim movie about the street boys of São Paulo, in particular about Pixote - which, according to the program, translates roughly as Peewee...The performances are almost too good to be true, but Mr. Da Silva and Miss Pera are splendid. Pixote is not for the weak of stomach. A lot of the details are tough to take, but it is neither exploitative nor pretentious. Mr. Babenco shows us rock-bottom, and because he is an artist, he makes us believe it as well all of the possibilities that have been lost."
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on nine reviews, none of which include the reviews of the previously mentioned three critics.
Filmmakers Spike Lee, Samuel van der Lande, Daisuke Lieberman, and Harmony Korine have cited it as being among their favorite films.
WinsSan Sebastián International Film Festival: OCIC Award - Honorable Mention; Hector Babenco; 1981.
Locarno International Film Festival: Silver Leopard; Hector Babenco; 1981.
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: LAFCA Award; Best Foreign Film; 1981.
New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award; Best Foreign Language Film; 1981.
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: BSFC Award; Best Actress, Marília Pêra; Best Film; 1982.
National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA: NSFC Award Best Actress, Marília Pêra; 1982.
NominationsNational Board of Review of Motion Pictures (US), Best Foreign Language Film; 1981.
Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Foreign Film, Brazil; 1982.