Gritty and Tender Brazilian Drama About a Gay Teen

Gritty and Tender Brazilian Drama About a Gay Teen

As the film “Baby” begins, the protagonist, Wellington, experiences freedom for the first time in nearly two years. Having just completed his time in a youth detention center, which feels more like a high-security prison despite occasional musical breaks, Wellington returns to his working-class neighborhood in São Paulo. However, he finds that his parents have left the city without leaving any contact information. In their absence, an older man steps in, offering a confusing mix of care and control as a lover, mentor, business partner, and paternal figure.

The film, directed by Marcelo Caetano, delves into the intricate and often painful dynamics of Wellington’s relationship with this older man and the world they navigate. Caetano, known for his work on “Body Electric” and as a casting director for “Bacurau” and “Aquarius,” draws powerful performances from his lead actors. The film’s documentary-like immediacy is enhanced by the dynamic street scenes of downtown São Paulo, captured by cinematographers Joana Luz and Pedro Sotero using hidden cameras and zoom lenses. Despite its gritty and transactional nature, the film is filled with life and a tender, sentimental compassion at its core.

Wellington, played by newcomer João Pedro Mariano, is an 18-year-old who reconnects with his street friends after being abandoned by his parents—a policeman who never accepted his sexuality and a hairdresser mother he is determined to find. His friends, a diverse queer group, support each other as they navigate their challenging lives. On his first night back, Wellington joins them in a visit to a gay porn theater, where he meets Ronaldo, played by Ricardo Teodoro. Initially unaware that Ronaldo is a sex worker, Wellington is drawn to him. Ronaldo, in turn, offers Wellington a meal and a place to sleep.

Although there is an undeniable sexual tension between them, their first night together is spent sleeping. Ronaldo, in a twisted big brotherly way, encourages Wellington to start selling his body. He teaches him survival skills, including boxing and negotiation tactics, and takes him to a bathhouse where Wellington adopts the name “Baby,” recognizing his appeal to older men.

Ronaldo’s life is a mix of contradictions. He boasts of high-end clients, yet his rundown apartment and precarious drug-dealing business tell a different story. Despite his struggles, he provides financial and emotional support to his 13-year-old son, Allan, who lives in relative comfort with Ronaldo’s former partner, Priscila, and her wife, Jana.

The screenplay, co-written by Caetano and Gabriel Domingues, explores various forms of family. It highlights the bond among the street kids, the supportive circle around Ronaldo’s son, Baby’s search for his mother, and the complex relationship between Baby and Ronaldo. When Ronaldo claims, “He’s with me,” the lines between protection and control blur. Baby eventually breaks away from Ronaldo’s grip, only to be taken in by another older man, Alexandre, who offers a luxurious lifestyle but ultimately reveals his class prejudices.

The film’s tension is heightened by the presence of Ronaldo’s dangerous drug supplier, Torres, but the story is driven by deeper themes of loyalty and forgiveness. These themes are reflected in the film’s score, which ranges from percussive to modern choral to lush and emotional.

Mariano delivers a superb performance as a resilient teen forced to grow up quickly. Teodoro, an experienced stage actor, portrays Ronaldo with a compelling mix of gentleness and vulnerability. The film’s emotional depth is further enhanced by nearly wordless scenes, such as one involving Baby’s mother, and the poignant final sequence.

“Baby” is a gritty yet tender Brazilian drama that captures the complexities of a gay teen’s life. It is a story of broken but healing hearts, filled with tough and messy truths.

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