'Boy 23 — the Forgotten Boys of Brazil': Film Review

Boy 23 - Still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of Menino23.com
A fascinating and disturbing true-life tale.

Belisario Franca's documentary recounts the unknown story of 50 orphans who were enslaved by Nazi sympathizers in Brazil.

Yet another dark chapter of Nazism surfaces in Belisario Franca’s documentary about a little known incident from Brazil’s past. Chronicling the story of the forced slavery of 50 orphans by a prominent family of Nazi sympathizers, Boy 23 — the Forgotten Boys of Brazil makes for fascinating, if disturbing, viewing.

Based on research conducted by a Brazilian historian, the film relates how the tale finally came to light when bricks emblazoned with swastikas were found in rural Sao Paulo. It turned out they came from a ranch owned by a well-connected, elite family who, like many upscale Brazilians in the 1930s, had Nazi leanings. We learn that the country had been the last Western nation to abolish slavery, in 1881, and that during the Nazi era it eagerly embraced eugenics, the pseudo-science advocating selective breeding as a method of improving the human race.  

The film centers on two elderly survivors from the group of orphans who were moved from their Rio de Janeiro orphanage to the ranch under the guise of “schooling.” They were soon made slaves and referred to only by numbers. They were finally freed after the end of World War II, when, left to their own devices, many of them turned to crime. The title refers to Aloisio Silva, “No. 23,” who recounts his horrific experiences in mostly calm, unemotional fashion. One of the most moving segments depicts his revisiting the ruins of the orphanage from which he had been taken 80 years earlier.

Using a mixture of archival footage, occasional dramatic re-creations filmed in black and white and extensive interviews with the two survivors as well as the family members of a third, Boy 23 is admirably understated in its storytelling. Eschewing melodrama and histrionics in favor of a dispassionate, analytical approach, the film is all the more powerful for its restraint.

Production: Giros Interativa, Giros Producoes, Globos Filmes, Globo News
Distributor: Cinemaflix
Director: Belisario Franca
Screenwriters: Belisario Franca, Bianca Lenti
Producer: Maria Carneiro de Cunha
Directors of photography: Lula Cerri, Mario Franca, Thiago Lima
Editor: Yan Motta
Not rated, 80 minutes