Indy Film Fest: Derrapada (Slam)
A dazzling Brazilian drama about a passionate but wayward teen who finds that falling in love is the beginning, not the destination, of becoming an adult.
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“Derrapada” is a dazzling Brazilian drama about a wayward teen from Rio de Janeiro. Like many almost-17-year-olds, he has lots of passions though prefers to play it off cool. He thinks falling in love will mark his arrival at manhood, when it fact it’s just a starting point — and not the only one.
Directed by Pedro Amorim, who also co-wrote the script with Izabella Faya and Ana Pacheco, “Derrapada” (“Slam”) is the story of Samuca, a working-class kid who’s into skateboarding and drawing. Amorim photographs the story in a fast-paced, zippy style that incorporates a lot of modern camera techniques and even some animation.
The movie features a layered, vibrant performance by Matheus Costa, playing a kid who can’t grow up fast enough but discovers it’s better to slow down and contemplate.
His mother, Melina (Nanda Costa), had Samuca when she was about his age and while she loves him fiercely, believes that having a child so young closed a lot of doors for her in life. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in his family that he’s determined to avoid. She bakes cakes and other treats that Samuca delivers to customers, and they’re getting by, barely.
He spends a lot of time hanging out at “the tracks” (skateboard park) with slightly older guys without jobs or purpose who should serve as warning beacons for him. His closest buddy, Rabbit, urges Samuca to set him up with Melina — which sounds creepy, and it is, though she’s just 33 and a stunner. The boy is dismayed when instead she begins dating his geography teacher (Felipe Rocha).
His high school is currently shut down by an ongoing protest by the students over some vague grievances. It mostly seems like an excuse for the teens to avoid classes, festoon the courtyard with banners and graffiti, and shout jingoistic chants at rallies that quickly turn into parties after they get the proletariat shouting out of the way.
Samuca is fascinated by Alicia (Heslaine Vieira), a chief instigator of the protests, who surprisingly returns his attentions. She recruits him to create the main mural for the cause and starts chatting him up. She keeps dropping a flirty trail of breadcrumbs Samuca is too dense to follow because he considers Alicia — smart, gorgeous, popular and the daughter of two well-to-do lawyers — way out of his league.
(Narrator: she is.)
Like a lot of movies told from a Y-chromosome perspective, you have to swallow the conceit that amazing females habitually fall hard for skinny dweebs. Trust me, as a (formerly) skinny dweeb, it just don’t happen.
Soon enough they’re boinking day and night. Samuca waxes like he’s arrived at the top of the mountain, though his mother feels neglected, even possessive. They take the usual precautions, though not enough as it happens, and Alicia and Samuca find themselves having to take on some very adult responsibilities well before they’re ready.
Melina and Alicia’s parents are devastated, and there’s not a little class resentment as the white-collar parents feel like their daughter has been ensnared by boy from the other side of the tracks.
One thing I appreciated about “Derrapada” is that this development is not merely a coda to the story but the threshold to its richest part. Samuca must struggle with the prospect of putting his life on hold, repeating the penchant for mishaps and rotten luck that seems inherent to his clan.
At one point he runs away to a remote waterfall destination, the site of a rare happy family vacation when he was a kid. There he undergoes a sort of mini-vision quest, reliving his childhood and thinking about what the ending of it truly means. Of course, Alicia and Melina and everyone else berate the hell out of him for the disappearing act, but in some ways it’s the best thing he could’ve done.
“Sometimes it takes courage to be a coward,” he says to the camera.
“Derrapada” may be a somewhat familiar tale, but the filmmakers and cast infuse energy and audacity into its telling. The steps we take as a teenager — and even moreso, the missteps — are the building blocks to who we grow up to be. That usually isn’t what we had envisioned, and accepting that is what true maturity is all about.