I begin yet another series in The Blog of Big Ideas that will concentrate on exploring great pieces of film that are worth watching but are very much unknown by the majority.
Today I start with a wonderful film titled “Hermano” which in Spanish means “brother”. Released in 2010 and directed by Marcel Rasquin in his first try at the chair, “Hermano” is a low-budget Venezuelan feature film that dreams big in the chaotic and violent setting of the “barrios” in Caracas, one of the world’s most dangerous cities.
I was born and raised in Caracas, the capital of the oil-rich South American country. I am, as a result, able to craft an informed opinion about this film knowing full well what it entails to grow up in the capital of Venezuela. I was not as unfortunate as our two main characters who meandered through the maze of alleys that move high into the hills and mountains surrounding the valley that hosts the older, more established part of the city. I, however, could not escape the reality of a country ridden with an array of problems that drove me and many others to the unfortunate choice of exiting the country to start a better life elsewhere. In its obvious yet modest social critique the film depicts a harsh reality that might look unbelievable to most, but that it is indeed the sad situation that plagues the “barrios” of the city. Its criticism is expressed in both words and powerful imagery.
The film centers around two teenagers, Daniel “The Cat” and Julio, who play soccer in a poor and dangerous neighborhood. They have the talent and personality to make it big in the sport but, because of their circumstances, suffer the obstacle of a life where opportunities hardly ever present themselves and where danger lurks closely in every corner. Julio found Daniel as a baby in a pile of trash, giving him the nickname of “cat” for the sounds he made that faithful day. This fact serves the film well in that gives the relationship between Daniel and Julio a unique quality. They are brothers because they grew up together and were raised by a dedicated single mother with a lot of love to give. Their bond is strong and it transcends blood, staying clear from the typical family paternity that has been the focus of so many Hollywood films.
Daniel is timid and awkward around girls while Julio is the confident captain of the soccer team who seems to be popular with the females. Daniel’s heart is at the right place and desires, more than anything, to become a professional soccer player and grow away from the violence of the “barrio”. Julio’s story is a bit more complicated. With time and age, so came alluring temptations that led him to become a part of the neighborhood’s gang. He is not a bad apple but as many other youngsters, he sees no opportunities outside of crime. The natural and sometimes effortless chemistry between the two is one of the film’s great charms. Their relationship does not follow the typical cookie-cutter Hollywoodesque script, and seems a lot more fluid and believable than most I have seen in film.
The acting is not top-class by any means. In fact, it is a bit amateurish, which is to be expected from a low-budget South American film. The quality of the performances harms the delivery but, at the same time, enhances the realism. Daniel awkwardness, for example, comes partly from the script but also from the limited acting skills of the young actor. These are not huge shortcomings though because “Hermano” goes well beyond a few acting hiccups. The story is inspiring, the music flows at the same beat as the action and so does the personal camera work of Rasquin. The humor is purely Venezuelan in nature which only means it will feel more familiar to those used to the slang of Venezuelan streets. Although it does fall for a few typical cliches along the way, “Hermano” usually remains well above expectations and I highly recommend its viewing.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (very good)