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Palm Pictures presents
"For 50 plus the ride, you get what you want."
DVD ReviewCo-produced by Walter Salles (director of The Motorcycle Diaries), director Sergio Machado's 2005 effort, Lower City promises a sexy look at the gritty underbelly of Brazil. While the project didn't garner much of an audience stateside (it played some festivals and had a limited release), it's now getting a potentially much wider audience, thanks to DVD.
Deco (Lázaro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura) are best friends who own a boat in the Brazilian town of Bahia. When they meet gorgeous stripper Karinna (Alice Braga), she pays the duo with sexual favors to take her to the big city of Salvador. Once there, Karinna is about to hitch a ride with another man, when Naldinho is brutally stabbed after a cock fight and nearly dies. As both of these friends get closer to and discover stronger feelings for Karinna, they grow further apart from each other. Both must soon decide whether their love for her is more important than their friendship.
Lower City has its moments, and is genuinely erotic, but it pales in comparison to the very similar Y tu mamá, también. A more dynamic approach might have greatly benefited this film, but instead we get a story that is far too straightforward for its own good. This leads to monotony, and an ambiguous finale that leaves us with more questions than answers. If we spend an hour and a half getting to know these complex, greatly flawed characters, the least Machado can do is give us some sense of what will happen to them in the future.
The film is nearly saved by Alice Braga's performance, though. Having already proven herself a force in the Oscar-nominated City of God, Braga not only has her aunt's good looks, but her talent as well. She carries herself with an unassuming sense of confidence while never straying over the line into the realm of arrogance. Braga apparently has no problem baring it all on the screen, either; most adventurousactors would shy away from some of what the 23-year-old is asked to do here. If Lower City is any indication of her potential, Alice Braga has an amazingly bright future in front of her.
There can be such a thing as steam over substance, but that's not necessarily the case here. Despite some strong sex scenes, the focus (however blurry) of the story remains the conflict between Deco and Naldinho and the woman who comes between them. However, none of the story threads ever really amount to anything remotely resembling "real" relationships. Sure, the gritty look and eroticism might overshadow the poor storytelling and draw many film fans, but a bit more tightening of this script and fleshing out of the characters would have much improved this film experience and garnered a slam-dunk recommendation.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image captures director Sergio Machado's vision perfectly. The gritty cinematography and overall dingy look represents life in the poor sections of Brazil, rendering the grain and dirt almost a rare necessity in this case. The images stay surprisingly sharp and detailed for the most part, and the color scheme is intentionally muted. Solid contrast and shadow levels aid the cause as well, while fleshtones are more than accurate.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The Portuguese dialogue is always crisp and clear in this Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. Music plays a big part in the film, whether it's the haunting score or pulsing tunes in the strip club. Regardless of the tunes, the audio is always impressive thanks to a wide dynamic range, pounding bass, and enveloping channel separation.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Calvaire (The Ordeal), Rolling Family, The Motel
5 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: A decent collection of extra features begins with the Making of Lower City. This 25-minute documentary explores the production of the film, via cast and crew interviews and candid on-set footage. The latter makes this a documentary that is worth checking out.
There are five deleted scenes that last just over three minutes and don't add much exposition. There aren't any bonus sex scenes, but it's not like we don't see enough of this in the finished film.
There's also 12 minutes of cast rehearsals that feature similar footage to that in the longer documentary. This is very appealing and candid footage that really gives us a feel for what went on during the filming.
The original theatrical trailer as well as a collection of previews for other Palm Pictures releases round out the extras.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA flawed yet intriguing film, Lower City is worth checking out thanks to the lovely Alice Braga, although her work can't quite overcome a messy story that bogs things down. Palm's DVD is another solid effort, complete with nice audio and video, and a handful of worthwhile extra features.
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