It’s tempting to call director Jeferson De’s Bróder! São Paulo’s answer to City of God. But make no mistake: this is not a film about poverty and violence. Though crime definitely affects the lives of these characters (this is Capão Redondo, after all, one of the scariest favelas in Brazil), Bróder! focuses instead on relationships, specifically the brotherhood between Macu, Jaiminho, and Pibe. These three have been tight since their childhood days in Capão, and though they’ve gone their separate ways—Jaiminho is a star soccer player in Spain and Pibe is an insurance salesman, while Macu still lives at home with his mom and alcoholic stepdad and navigates Capão like some sort of ghetto Don, befriending thugs and old ladies alike—they all abide by a strict code of loyalty. Come to think of it, Bróder! has more in common with a John Singleton flick than Fernando Meirelles’ obra maestra. One of the best scenes has the boys riding in Jaiminho’s Hummer, rapping along to a vintage cut by legendary Capão-reared Racionais MC’s while on their way to a strip club. But when Macu is asked by the neighborhood mafiosos to sell out his rich buddy, that brotherhood gets tested in ways none of them thought were possible.
After its world premiere as part of the Panorama section in Berlin, I caught up with actors Caio Blat (Macu) and Silvio Guindane (Pibe), who are both well known for their work in Brazil.
What did you learn about life inside the favelas while shooting?
In the beginning we were in such a rush to know everybody, to know the place, and Du Bronks [a real-life MC who also stars in the movie as a baddie] said, “Easy, guys, sit down and listen.” One day we were running late for a rehearsal, and Bronks sees an old lady waving at us and he’s like, “We have to stop.” And we’re like, “You’re crazy, we’re late!” And he’s like, “No, you don’t understand, we have to stop.” So we get out of the car, go inside for a cup of coffee, and she starts telling us about her kids who were killed, and then I started discovering how these mothers and brothers feel. Every house there has a story like the one in the movie.
Did you grow up listening to the old-school hip-hop that’s played in the movie?
Caio: Yes. It was a movement that started in the ghetto and took everybody by storm. There’s a song from the Racionais that says, “You don’t like us n*ggers/ but I entered your house through the radio and I got your son.” These guys don’t go on television, they’re against commercialism, they never put their music in the novelas, never give interviews, they burn their own CDs and hand them out to people.
So you got their blessing to use their music in the film?
Caio: Of course! Getting into the neighborhood took a lot of diplomacy, they are like the leaders of that hood, so when we got there, they said to us, “We will let you in, but we don’t want those films of violence, extreme poverty, misery. We don’t want you to show the people getting beaten by the police.”
Silvio: They still live inside the favelas and do a lot of community service with the kids.
What’s the main difference between the ghettos of São Paulo and Rio?
Silvio: In Rio, the city is here and the favelas are located higher up, in the hills. So there’s that physical separation. In São Paulo, it’s a huge metropolis and the city exists right next to the favelas. Also, São Paulo is a much richer city, so the contrast between rich and poor is much bigger.
Caio: At the same time, Rio is much more democratic. Poor people go to the same beach as the rich folks.
How do you feel about the future of your country once Lula finishes his term as president?
Caio: We are very optimistic about the development of the country, but not about the politicians. They’re all the same. Lula’s party is involved in corruption schemes as well, so regardless of who wins the next election, it will remain the same. Lula profited a lot from the natural growth of our country and from the strong bases of our economy that were already in place. People say Lula changed many things; he changed nothing.
Sometimes there is this debate over whether Brazilians are Latinos. Here at Latina, we consider you one of us. We’ve even had actress Alice Braga on the cover. What’s your take?
Caio: We are separated by language. Latin actors can work in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile, but we are separated and that’s very sad for me. I personally feel a very strong Latin American connection. It’s my dream to shoot in Argentina; they make such beautiful movies. So I’ve been working a lot on my Spanish. Tengo muchas ganas de ser considerado un actor Latino y no solamente un actor brasilero.
Broder! is currently touring the international film festival circuit. As of press time, no theatrical distribution outside of Brazil had been secured.