Everything -- including friendship -- is negotiable in the erotic Brazilian drama "Lower City," directed by Sergio Machado.
Two young friends, Naldinho (Wagner Moura) and Deco ("Madame Sata's" Lazaro Ramos), co-own a cargo boat and haul goods in the northeastern state of Bahia. A young hooker named Karinna (Alice Braga, niece of Sonia) looking for a way to the coastal city of Salvador accepts a ride and agrees to sleep with both of them as part of the deal.
The men's bond is strong -- they've been friends since childhood -- but it's no match for the wiles of Karinna. Their vow to never let a woman come between them lasts about as long as Karinna's clothes remain on. Quiet and sensitive, Deco is seduced by her beauty. The more aggressive Naldinho is drawn to the more animal of her charms. Braga wields her sexuality in a controlled, deliberate manner, and its effect on the audience is as strong as it is on Naldinho and Deco.
Shortly after the men collect their fare in trade from Karinna, they stop in the inland town of Cacheiro, and Naldinho takes a knife intended for Deco during an argument with a racist following a cockfight. Deco and Karinna rush him to a doctor in Salvador and through his convalescence the trio's bonds are intensified and complicated.
In the city, Karinna works as a stripper, Deco returns to prize-fighting and Naldinho does some shady work for a local boss. The inevitable love triangle builds amid steamy sex, and the resulting jealousy threatens the men's friendship. There is an underlying homoerotic current to their relationship, but the film keeps it at arm's length and the shared love never explodes into a full-blown menage a trois.
Machado, who co-wrote the screenplay with Karim Ainouz, makes his feature directing debut after working under Walter Salles (who produced "Lower City"), and he brings a gritty, realistic tone to the film. The themes are all familiar and the plot unfolds slowly and in predictable ways, but there's plenty of heat generated by the three leads.
MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
A Palm Pictures release. Director Sergio Machado. Producers Walter Salles, Mauricio Andrade Ramos. Screenplay by Machado, Karim Ainouz. Director of photography Toca Seabra. Editor Isabela Monteiro de Castro. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
In selected theaters.