There's nothing especially complicated about the plotting to Lower City: a beautiful young prostitute Karinna (Alice Braga) encounters two petty hustlers Deco (Lázaro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura), who fall heavily for her, thereby jeapardizing their own deep-rooted friendship. But what impresses about this feverish debut feature is the way director Sérgio Machado vividly conveys his characters' intense emotions and the searing performances from his young lead actors.
Whereas the likes of City Of God and Carandiru were set in the sprawling major cities of Rio de Janeiro and San Paolo, Lower City unfolds in the northern coastal state of Bahia and in a seedy underworld of cockfights, dive bars, strip-clubs, and boxing bouts. It's after a bloody brawl that the central trio wind up in the town of Salvador and attempt to follow their own separate paths. "Hanging with you two guys is fun, but it doesn't pay the bills," declares Karinna, who finds work as a pole-dancer. Yet the obsessional desire of both men towards her can't easily be ignored.
Vibrantly shot on handheld cameras in a palette of saturated colours, the lust-driven Lower City has a raw immediacy: you can see the sweat on peoples bodies and feel their emotional desperation. Machado cleverly undercuts audience expectations and refuses to make moral judgements about the behaviour of the threesome, choosing instead to reveal their inner vulnerability and celebrate their capacity for defiant survival.
In Portuguese with English subtitles.