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  • Kids fight exploitation in one of the world's most dangerous cities

Kids fight exploitation in one of the world's most dangerous cities

Trash (M). Director: Stephen Daldry. Starring: Rickson Tevez, Eduardo Luis, Gabriel Weinstein, Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Wagner Moura, Selton Mello. 108 minutes

One of the set pieces of this Brazilian-British co-production sees Raphael, Gardo and Rato — three Rio de Janeiro street kids — plotting a kind of bait-and-switch, to obtain the next major clue in the life-and-death riddle they are trying to solve. As the leader of the three, Raphael (Tevez), lays out the intricacies of the plan, director Stephen Daldry cuts back and forth between their meeting and the attempt itself, as mistakes and accidents conspire to nearly derail the entire scheme.

Trash is a kind of realist fairytale set among the streets and lives of some of the world's most downtrodden. Raphael and Gardo (Luis) spend their days, with other slum-dwellers, scouring mountainous trash heaps for useful items. One day Raphael discovers a wallet, the contents of which soon have them — and their friend, Rato (Weinstein) — on the trail of an invaluable treasure, and on the run from dangerous men: none more dangerous than corrupt cop Frederico (Mello). 

The above scene is pertinent because it encapsulates just about everything that is great about Trash. The juxtaposition of careful planning with flawed execution creates both humour and tension, as a white-knuckle chase scene eventuates. It is typical of a film that is seriously compelling and entertaining from go to whoa. The seasoned British pair of Daldry and screenwriter Richard Curtis have done a fine job of adapting and executing Andy Mulligan's acclaimed young adult novel. 

The scene also captures a juxtaposition that exists within the boys themselves: of the steel and resourcefulness that must come from living on the streets of one of the world's most dangerous cities, with the fragility and artlessness that are hallmarks of youth. The three dynamic 'non-actors' who portray them are a joy to watch, in this scene and every other; Sheen, as a cantankerous priest, and Mara, as an NGO worker, may lend the film a Hollywood pedigree, but the boys are its undoubted stars.

It is unfortunate, albeit unavoidable, that the film pins the story to a recognisable (albeit unnamed) location. Mulligan has said of his novel (which was inspired by his experiences not in South America but in the Philippines) that he kept the location oblique because 'I was anxious that the book was never seen as an attack on one country. Corruption and child-exploitation … exist (or have existed) in every country in the world. I did not want to localise the book when its issues are international.'

While not universal in quite the same way, the film still carries this social justice theme in its veins. For the most part, it is evident simply in the details of the characters' lives and experiences — in the sight of children sifting garbage through everyday necessity; in the ease with which the boys are exploited or degraded, and the lengths to which they must go to avoid further degradation and exploitation. Trash is not poverty porn but a heartfelt, human story that is bold enough to be both gritty and uplifting.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Trash, Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Brazil



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