PIZZA, BEER, SMOKES (Bruno Stagnaro, Adrián Caetano, 1998)

Adrián Caetano, the gifted young Argentine who wrote and directed Bolivia (2001), earlier co-wrote and co-directed, along with Bruno Stagnaro, Pizza, birra, faso. The culture of boys in their late teens, pressure-cooked by their environment, a Rio de Janeiro slum, is colorfully and convincingly presented—careless lives, steeped in petty crime, amidst slang and obscenities. Sandwiched between police radio broadcasts, the misadventures shown humanize statistics: those of crime and cop-kills. In a move to seize some degree of self-determination, two boys who work as thieves for a taxi cab driver, who exploits their assistance by providing little pay, generate their own plans for robberies, attracting other boys to shore up their own lack of experience. The incompetent result is a store of street tragedies.
     One of the boys, called Cordobés because he comes from Córdoba, promises his pregnant girlfriend, Sandra, to steer clear of crime. They plan on leaving for Uruguay together, to stay with Sandra’s mother. Pablo, his friend, is asthmatic—a mark of the terrible vulnerability of all these youths. Indeed, not just the two boys, but also others who join the fated gang and, above all, Sandra, who is routinely beaten by her father, draw our concern and interest.
     On two scores the film triumphs. One is its elastic tone, which skirts outright comedy as the gang botches up one crime before their next, fatal crime. The other is its reeking aura of pollution of one kind or another. Pablo’s asthma speaks to this, as does a cop’s bribe-ability. The long-held closing shot is brilliant: no longer “silver,” the sickeningly polluted Rio de la Plata—an upshot of Argentina’s privatization of water management, and an index of the indefensible experimentation that private corporations inflict on already disadvantaged human lives.

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