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'Hermano': Venezuelan drama deserves wider release ★★★

The Venezuelan melodrama "Hermano," an absorbing tale of soccer, family ties and life in the Caracas barrios, was picked up for U.S. release by Chicago's Music Box Films. Locally the film opens this week in Barrington, Cicero, the Regal City North 14 and Ford City on the South Side. And nowhere else. This is too bad: It's a good movie, teeming with incident, and it deserves an audience.

In many ways, first-time feature director Marcel Rasquin's tale of two boys, Daniel and Julio, raised as brothers, hearkens back to the unpretentious and highly charged work of the pre-Production Code era in Hollywood, though Hollywood seems a long way away from this story's locale. After being rescued from a trash heap as an abandoned infant, Daniel, aka "Gato," is raised as little brother to Julio, whose mother is in a sometime-relationship with the married La Ceniza barrio soccer coach.

On the field, the hot-headed Julio and the more introspective, focused Gato communicate in magically intuitive fashion. They're friends and competitors in equal measure, formidable enough to attract the attention of a Caracas professional soccer scout who represents a way up, and out, of the barrio. Off the field, "Hermano" traffics in teen pregnancy, accidental gun fatalities and gangster justice.

The film's visual technique may be routine, but Rasquin coaxes committed, easy-breathing portrayals from his actors, beginning and ending with Fernando Moreno (Daniel) and Eliu Armas (Julio). The musical score by Rigel Mitxelena is excellent, content to provide subtle ripples of mood and aural commentary where other composers would've laid it on with a trowel.

Make no mistake: "Hermano" sounds a little ridiculous when you note such narrative "oh-my-God" coincidences as the boys' life-changing team tryout coming on the same day as a life-changing funeral. But unlike the more cinematically accomplished "City of God," from Brazil, this chronicle of barrio dwellers trying to make sense of a life filled with random violence gives its characters — the most venal of which retain their humanity — room to maneuver on their own terms, as well as the terms dictated by a familiar but well-told story.

mjphillips@tribune.com

No MPAA rating (violence, language, some sexuality)

Running time: 1:36; in Spanish with English subtitles

Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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