Two young Latinos who have been best friends since childhood offer a lift to a beautiful woman, both hoping to have sex with her, not realising how this will affect their friendship.

Lower City‘s premise sounds like Y Tu Mam?ambi?/em> revisited but its heroes, Deco (L?ro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura), are poorer, less educated, less advantaged than Mam?em>’s two teens, and it’s a much grittier movie.

Deco and Naldinho own a small boat carrying cargo to and from the river port of Salvador, state capital of Bahia in Brazil. A free-minded young woman named Karinna hitches a ride with them back to Salvador, agreeing to pay for her passage with money and sex. She’s played by Alice Braga, niece of Brazilian star Sonia Braga, who played the title role in Kiss Of The Spider Woman.

We get to see the seamy side of Salvador’s lower city where poverty and corruption go hand in hand. Deco and Naldinho lose money betting on a bloody cockfight and subsequently, when Deco gets into a fight, Naldinho unhesitatingly steps between him and an unexpected knife thrust and is seriously wounded.

Deeply moved by the rare love the boys have for each other, Karinna helps Deco nurse his friend back to health. She even helps support them by getting work stripping in a club, performing lap dances and turning tricks upstairs for patrons who pay off the madam at the bar.

Both Deco and Naldinho continue having sex with her, separately, but each grows increasingly infatuated with her, especially after she becomes pregnant. She in turn confesses that she can’t choose between them and inevitably there is major conflict.

The best solution obviously seems for them to settle into a m?ge ?rois but, despite the strong thread of homoerotic tension bubbling under the surface, you wonder if the boys will ever be able to have sex with her at the same time.

In a scene where Naldinho tries to give him a loving straight-boy kiss, Deco seems the more reluctant (ironically, L?ro Ramos played the title role in Madame Sata, portraying the infamous Rio drag queen).

Performances by the three stars are outstanding, particularly Braga, who sizzles in the dance numbers and sex scenes. The plot line treads a well-worn path but nevertheless, after the gruelling climactic fight scene, the final minutes ring true.

It’s disappointing that we get only glimpses of the beautiful city of Salvador, but the sleazy ambience of the lower city is palpable.

The movie is screening exclusively at the Chauvel Cinema, and their sound system does full justice to the pounding musical score. Audiences who aren’t deterred by the strong violence and gritty atmosphere should find Lower City has its unique rewards.

Lower City opens today.

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