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Rio Breaks

Score: 88%
Rating: Not Rated
Publisher: Factory 25
Region: A
Media: DVD/1
Running Time: 85 Mins.
Genre: Documentary/Sports/International
Audio: Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English


  • Deleted Scenes
  • Featurette: Living Cantagolo

I've had an enduring love affair - as have most people in the world - with Brazil, at least through its music and dance. There's something unbelievably compelling about Brazilian culture as it is generally transmitted to us, and Rio de Janeiro is the best-known Brazilian icon, for people on the outside. Much as it would be nonsense to try and understand America through the lens of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, people who think of Rio as synonymous with the undulating dancers and hypnotic rhythms of Carnivale are deeply misinformed. Rio Breaks shows us, through the eyes of two young boys, the stark reality and crippling hopelessness of favelas surrounding Rio. These shack-cities line the hills around the lower, wealthier core of Rio and are home to a desperate criminal population. And, to young boys and the fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters desperately trying to keep those boys from ending up a statistic of the city's active drug trade. The beach and surfing have always been a sort of metaphor for life and joy, but Rio Breaks shows how the sport is very literally a lifeline for boys that are otherwise easy pickings for rival drug factions in "the hills."

Fabio and Naama are in their early teens during the film, and both have lost loved ones to violence in the hills. It's not surprising that they choose to spend their time ("all their waking hours," as the voiceover intones at some point during the documentary) surfing Rio's generous waves. Director Justin Mitchell does a wonderful job capturing the feeling that any good coming-of-age film conveys, showing these boys to be unreliable, hormonal, passionate, loyal, playful, and naive narrators. Letting the characters do most of the talking was the right move for this film, which never bogs down in lengthy explanations of Brazil's culture or history. We're given just enough to know how to process what we're seeing on the screen, and some fine editing and Q&A from behind the camera lets the characters paint the rest of the picture. There's about a year or so chronicled here, during which we see the boys going through changes, some good and some bad. The city is strictly a backdrop to these characters; this isn't some Travel Channel advertorial...

Mitchell only skips a beat when he becomes too precious with his camera and film technique, as in the scene where the boys visit a church along with one of their surfing heroes. The intentionally obscured and shaky footage may be intended to suggest a sense of confusion or being out of place, or it may just be an attempt to spice up some weak footage... The more successful attempts at art-house antics come in moments like the one where Mitchell trains his camera on a character sitting still, using a sort of time-lapse technique to show the activity on a beach behind them. The layer of meaning below the obvious impression of Rio's busy beach is that Fabio and Naama are ripe with promise for a brighter future on the beach, even as they are being pulled into accepting the violence around them in the hills. Listening to them talk in a nonchalant fashion about shootings and death, burning bodies on soccer fields, you get the strong sense that they may already be lost. The tension of the film is largely whether both boys will make it through each day unscathed, much less whether they'll become surfing super-stars.

Rio Breaks is a mix of solid vision and almost pitch-perfect execution. Director Mitchell has a real talent for making a story about poverty this engaging and fresh. We tend to become numb to the gravity of situations like that in the hills surrounding Rio, just as we can ignore incredible disparities of wealth and injustice in our own country. Rio Breaks is nominally about friendship and young boys' journeys to adulthood, but it shines a bright light on the privileges afforded those of us lucky enough to have won the genetic lottery, and to have been born in countries where what Fabio and Naama face are minority issues. Don't think of Rio Breaks as a "surfing movie" (even though it features some awesome footage of riders and competitions) as much as a film about social responsibility and the importance of bonds between friends and family.



-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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