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Hermano

This movie is suitably named, because it really is about two brothers. Itís a great story: a little boy named Julio (Eliu Armas) is walking down the street with his Mom (Marcela Giron). He hears a noise that he thinks is the wail of a cat, but itís actually a baby crying in a trash pile. Mom recoils in shock, then takes a couple of steps forward to see if thereís any obvious injury, then grabs her sonís hand and quickly runs away, because she knows what will happen if she picks up the baby. And sure enough, she canít turn her back for long. She holds the baby, and now itís hers.
They name him Daniel, but call him Gato, because he sounded just like a cat when he cried as a baby. Fast forward 16 years, and Gato and Julio are very close friends. Despite the fact that they grow up in a Venezuelan slum named La Ceniza, Mom earns a little money making cakes. They get by. Julio, grown now, tries to take on some of the responsibility the only way he knows how: heís joined a gang, and they run some drugs. Mom tries not to notice where the help with the rent money is coming from. They both try to focus on Gato, who is an extraordinarily gifted athlete. He has a chance to be something special as a soccer player, but he canít afford to succumb to ďthe lifeĒ of a gang member if heís going to concentrate on his sports. Julio helps him by playing on the same neighborhood team, and practicing with him constantly. Their rivalry is intense, but it is obvious that they love each other, and would do anything for each other.
And that, it turns out, is the fatal flaw in their relationship. To say any more about the plot would give away too much. Suffice it to say that there are many dynamics present, about conflicting loyalties, and setting goals, and valuing loved ones, and balancing it all with having a dream, and the price you pay for pursuing it.
All of these actors are unknowns to North American audiences, but thatís part of what makes them feel genuine. This isnít just famous Hollywood stars playing the parts of obscure characters, these are faces weíve never seen before, and may not again. Director Marcel Rasquin not only shows us a realistic-looking portrait of modern slum living, complete with roving gangs of terrorist boys, he is unafraid to include the kind of language---and topics of conversation---you would expect to find in a rough neighborhood like this one. The attitude of the girls and boys toward each other, and their own sexuality, is a beguiling subplot, as is the political machinations of both street gangs and professional sports recruiters.
ďHermanoĒ just feels real. And we want so badly to root for all the underdogs here to somehow find a way to the light of day.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephenís Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas