Violent Visions

Lilica and Pixote (click for greater resolution)
Imaginary plentitude: Lilica (Jorge Juliao)
and Pixote (Fernando Ramos da Silva) in Pixote

bullet1 Defetishizing the Spectacle

I shall illustrate this idea of a defetishization process at work in these films through brief reference to the function of psychologically violent imagery in the earlier films, Los olvidados and Pixote.

bullet2 Meat

Los olvidados and Pixote still retain much of their emblematic power through their radical insistence on defetishizing their representations of poverty and social violence. Their focus on orphans and street children carries with it the danger of reducing complex social problems by simplifying the spectator’s response to one of attachment to and pity for one or other adorable/adoptable orphan. Yet both avoid any such reduction by complicating our moral responses, by questioning the (voyeuristic) status of our own gaze, and by deploying violent images designed to desublimate our potential attachment to particular icons. The slab of quivering meat offered by Pedro’s mother during the famous nightmare sequence in Los olvidados — which you may have seen — has, in Pixote, its direct counterpart in the aborted foetus of the prostitute Sueli lying in a rubbish bin next to her toilet in her filthy bathroom, with the knitting needle she used to extract it still stuck into its bloodied mass.

  • Abortion
    We are first introduced to Sueli in the glittering surroundings of a nightclub, dressed up as a sexual spectacle for consumption, the camera voyeuristically lingering over her body, as her former pimp comments in voiceover on her sexual prowess and negotiates her sale to the runaway boys with the proceeds from their drug deals and street robberies. Next morning, a haggard Sueli stumbles into her bathroom to find the ten-year-old orphan Pixote (one of the runaway group) looking intently at the rubbish bin:
Still from Pixote

Clip 1: Pixote, a lei do mais fraco
(subtitled) (1m 49s)

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Pixote later attempts to turn Sueli into a substitute mother figure (at the end of the film he suckles her breast in a scene that meshes sexuality and maternal desire in a highly confusing and destabilizing way: see still), and I think that this in retrospect makes the toilet sequence particularly unsettling as a defetishization of Sueli as porno-spectacle. The direct allusion here to Los olvidados not only functions through the shared imagery of meat as a matrix of desire, nurture, and death, but also through the film’s insistent, lingering focus on Pixote’s gaze, often directly framing his wide eyes (like the character Ojitos in the earlier film), and at other times adopting his point of view.

bullet2 Eyes

The insistence on vision, eyes, and the gaze in Pixote is only matched in intensity by the imagery concerning vision which suffuses the entirety of Los olvidados, but with a crucial difference which brings Pixote closer to the films of the 1990s: vision in the later film is mediatized, self-consciously played out over the screens of television and cinema.

  • Iconography
    Los olvidados assaults the viewer’s gaze with as much force as the razor-blade opening of Un chien andalou: not only through its themes of vision and blindness, but through its systematic deconstruction and defetishization of the icons of Mexican cinema, from Ojitos’ rural sombrero and poncho — out of place on the mean streets of Mexico City —, through the icon of the self-sacrificing asexual mother (subverted in Estela Inda’s performance of Pedro’s mother), to the substitution of Gabriel Figueroa’s postcard landscapes for the gritty slums and half-constructed tower blocks of Buñuél’s film (although note that Figueroa worked on the photography of Los olvidados).
  • Mediatization
    Pixote does something similar through its literal and metaphorical framing of the screen, from the opening close-ups of the transfixed eyes of an audience of young boys rounded up in a police detention centre, all staring motionlessly at the violent thriller being screened on an overhead television, through the home-cine projection of a porno film in the house of a drug dealer where the boys end up after running away from the Navigation buttons corrupt orphanage, to their first purchase  with the proceeds from pickpocketing, drug dealing, and pimping Sueli: a colour television. Violence, too, can be a claim to visibility: the literal transubstantiation of street crime into a television set becomes, somehow, emblematic of the boys’ invisibility, of their desire for the gaze, and of their final, violent, consumption as images on our own virtual screens.