Half Brother (Meio Irmão) is well made and well-acted. However, it felt incomplete. But then again, maybe that’s exactly what writer/director Elaine Coster was going for in her feature debut?
I was provided with a free digital screener of Half Brother for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Set in Sao Paulo, Half Brother tells the story of a young girl named Sandra (Natalia Molina) who has been searching for her mother for weeks. With a father who won’t give her the time of day and having to stay in her mother’s rented apartment with no money, food, and water, Sandra has no choice but to reach out to her queer half brother Jorge (Diego Avelino). While Jorge and his father try and help Sandra, Jorge’s got his own troubles to deal with after recording a homophobic attack on his cellphone lands him in danger.
Half Brother follows Sandra and Jorge as they do their best to make the most out of the cards they have been dealt in life. There’s a sense of longing in both characters as they imagine a better life outside their neighborhood. Sandra dreams of becoming a rapper. She’s already written a handful of songs. Jorge’s trying to figure out the romantic feelings toward his tattoo artist best friend Rui (who is also queer and the survivor of the homophobic attack Jorge secretly recorded). Rui also wants to go somewhere. He even invites Jorge to come along with him.
And while our young characters do hope for something better, there’s a sense of dread in the back of their minds about how things might never change for people like them. This is most evident through Jorge’s opinions. He comes across as the more realistic character in the film, even telling his father (who wants to create his own surveillance company) that it will be very tough for him to open his own shop being a Black man in Brazil. It’s as if everyone’s already been given a role to play in society and breaking away from the status quo is near impossible.
The main narrative focuses on Sandra’s journey to get in contact with her missing mother. It’s implied that her mother could be dead. In my opinion, Molina did a great job of making you feel sorry for Sandra as she slowly realizes that a very important person in her life might never come back. I’m glad she didn’t continue on a self-destructive path.
I also enjoyed the scenes Sandra and Jorge shared together. There’s definitely tension when Sandra decides to enter Jorge’s life unannounced. However, seeing them find mutual respect for each other felt organic. Of course, there’s some occasional teasing between the two. They’re siblings after all. So, that’s expected. The film really shone when it focused on the siblings.
Seeing the two strengthen their bond and being invested in their relationship is why, I think, the ending confused me. Eventually, both characters found themselves having to leave their neighborhood. Sandra comes across a way to make some quick cash while Jorge’s asked to go into hiding because his life’s in danger. I was expecting the two to at least say goodbye to each other. Maybe they didn’t want to say goodbye because for them it wasn’t an actual farewell and they were going to remain in contact? Hmmm.
Half Brother is well-directed and well-acted. It won the “Best Brazilian Fiction Feature Film” and “Best Film by First-Time Director” awards at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival. But the ending, in my opinion, had a sense of incompleteness to it.
Half Brother reminded me of another Sao Paulo-set queer-offering, Socrates (which I have reviewed). That film also had a young lead character trying to figure out life after losing his mother. Both movies don’t shy away from showing the bleakness of growing up in certain circumstances, but they do make sure to add hope… a way to tell the audience that these characters will somehow figure out how to be okay.
Cameras, phones, and video recordings have a huge presence in Half Brother. Sandra thinks that every call she gets is from her mother (trying to answer a call also results in her getting in an accident). Jorge’s conflicted about what to do with the video recording he made of the homophobic attack. His father’s surrounded by surveillance equipment due to the nature of his job.
I have to say that while I was intrigued when Jorge’s father began to see a mysterious masked figure in the feed from the security cameras, the resolution of said plot thread left me confused. I’ve got no idea what’s going on with him. Was his greed to make more money to start a business twisting his moral compass? I’m not sure.
As for the overall queer representation in Half Brother, I liked the chemistry between Jorge and Rui. They’re clearly into each other. Jorge just needed to make the first move and, fortunately, he did. I also liked how the scene showing Rui being upset after finding out that Jorge’s made a recording of the attack wasn’t dragged out. Yes, Jorge should have acted sooner to help Rui, but it’s understandable he was afraid to do anything because he was being threatened.
Another thing I liked about this film was how Jorge didn’t face any homophobia from his family. Sandra’s okay with having a queer older brother. It’s shown she’s known about him for quite a while. Jorge’s father is also very supportive of his son. Even Sandra’s friend is okay with it.
Now, the scene where Jorge kissed Sandra’s friend because she brought up his sexuality did make me roll my eyes. I was expecting the narrative to make Jorge use Sandra’s friend as a beard. But, thankfully, that didn’t happen. As the story progressed, Jorge accepted his feelings toward Rui and made the right decision about the video recording.
If you’re into watching a film that features siblings leaning on each other through tough times and has something to say about how complicated growing up can be in certain parts of the world, I think you should consider watching Half Brother. Even though the ending left me wanting more, I can’t deny that it’s a well-made indie offering. It held my attention throughout the approximately 1 hour 35-minutes long running time.
Take note; Half Brother does include graphic nudity and sexual scenes.
Breaking Glass Pictures made Half Brother available to watch via Amazon, Vudu, local cable and satellite providers, and DVD on June 15, 2021.
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Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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