Half Brother (Meio Irmão): A Review

Half Brother (Meio Irmão), the multiple-award winning 2018 Brazilian debut feature film from Elaine Coster, is finally available for viewing outside of its home country after much buzz in the world of independent cinema. 

Thanks to the wonders of streaming and VOD, audiences all over the world have a seemingly infinite amount of options for international movies and TV series.  An interesting side effect, intentionally or not, is the ability for those audiences to see a much more realistic depiction of cultures outside their own– not just romanticized versions of those cultures for mass audience appeal.  Half Brother is a prime example of that.  Arguably, most North Americans may associate Brazil with the notorious Carnivals and the country’s stunning scenery.  But aside from a few glimpses into the South American nation’s natural beauty, audiences of Half Brother will instead get a strikingly realistic view of day-to-day life in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo.  The characters must deal with their daily struggles, which in this movie’s case range from fighting prejudices based on race and sexual orientation, to coping with the unyielding realities of poverty, to surviving outright violence.  The characters we meet in Half Brother wear their stories on their faces, which are brought into vivid life thanks to the acting talents of the two leads.

The first of those aforementioned faces we meet is Sandra (Natalia Molina), a teenaged aspiring songwriter.  Sandra wears her adolescent restlessness and her hunger for something better in her expressive eyes.  Like other teenagers, Sandra hangs out with her friends, gossips with other girls at her high school, shops, and alternately fights and flirts with her sort-of boyfriend File (Andre Andrade).  But Sandra is dealing with a more serious issue than picking a pair of sunglasses from the open air market: Her mother, Seuly, has been missing for days, leaving the teen alone without food, money, or utilities.  Sandra’s father isn’t much help. In a parallel plot in the same city, twenty-something Jorge (Diego Avelino) lives with his father Wilson (Francisco Gomes).  The two single men work at a video surveillance company. Jorge is apparently dealing with some angst of his own.  He harbors a secret crush for his handsome friend, a tattoo artist named Rui (Dico Oliveira). One fateful night, he witnesses Rui and another man getting gay-bashed– and manages to catch the event on video.  Although Jorge’s actions saved a bad situation from becoming worse, he is now getting both online and actual homophobic threats of violence for having evidence to a crime. Will he tell Rui about the video?  Will he release the video to the police, knowing the personal danger that could follow? In the meantime, the sexual tension between Jorge and Rui simmers until it explodes with a very explicit sex scene.  

The worlds of Sandra and Jorge are about to meet up… or perhaps we should say meet again.  With the landlord hovering around her and options running out, the abandoned Sandra breaks into a nearby house.  After falling asleep on the bed, she is woken by the owners of the property– which just happen to be Jorge and Wilson.  As it turns out, Jorge is Sandra’s “half brother” of the movie’s title: Seuly, still missing, was mother of both of them.  Sandra is invited to stay with the two men, and the audience gets to watch the relationship between Sandra and Jorge evolve, albeit  very S-L-O-W-L-Y.  Their kinship progresses from territorial, to tolerable, to cordial, and then finally to mutually supportive as the two deal with their respective issues.  Sandra is still looking for Seuly, who actually may or may not be dead.  In one heartbreaking scene, she drunkenly stumbles through the street, approaching every middle aged woman who could possibly be her missing mother. Jorge still deals with increasing harassments over the incriminating video.  Being Afro-Brazilians, both Jorge and his father deal with racism in Brazilian society at large, which impedes their career aspirations.  In addition to sharing some common blood, both Sandra and Jorge seek something greater than what their brick-and-wire urban jungle can offer. But can they get it? At the film’s open-ended conclusion, one of the characters leaves the city altogether when their situation becomes more than they can bear.

The highly recommended Half Brother (Meio Irmão) is now available on VOD from Breaking Glass Pictures here.  The movie is in Portuguese with English subtitles.   

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