‘Hopefuls’ (‘Aspirantes’): Rio de Janeiro Review

Hopefuls - H 2015
Courtesy of Crisis Produtivas
The film's worthy intentions are not always matched by its dramatic achievement.

This downbeat take on the dreams and reality of a wannabe Brazilian soccer player took three awards at Rio.

For young men all over the world, soccer remains the chosen form of escape from society's pressures. The subject of Hopefuls is one such young man -- but for Junior, the soccer itself will become another pressure.

Its clean, stripped-back air and its quiet, implacable treatment of a young life miserably falling apart are the key features of a film which uses a deceptively calm surface to explore the turbulent depths of its young protag, who has done absolutely nothing to deserve all this. Part psychological study, part social crit and part somewhat leaden-footed drama, Hopefuls’ dreams came true at Rio, where it took best actor (Ariclenes Barroso) and shared best director (Ives Rosenfeld) and best supporting actress (Julia Bernat), suggesting fest play in Latin America and at friendly festivals. But despite the universality of its subject, there’s little about the treatment to suggest further travel.

The opening, heavily-strobed nightclub scenes ends in a fight ,and feels like the end of the good times for Junior (Barroso), who plays football for a soccer team in Rio de Janeiro state alongside his best friend Bento (Sergio Malheiros). Junior hasn't practiced for four days because his girlfriend Karine (Bernat) is pregnant, but there are other difficulties too, which pile up as the film proceeds: Junior lives with an alcoholic uncle (Aury Porto) -- we know nothing about Junior's parents -- he does a dead-end day job, and in one powerful scene, Junior and Karine will receive the mother of all scoldings from Karine’s older sister Sandra (Karine Teles) about being unprepared for the arrival of the baby.

But the fact is, they are unprepared, and Junior’s unpreparedness comes out in all sorts of sad and unexpected ways. His friendship with Bento becomes rivalry and then enmity, while his soccer and his relationship suffer, each impacting negatively on the other. Under pressures which he’s entirely unprepared to handle, his life painfully falls apart and he becomes increasingly withdrawn-- a process which Barroso makes painfully plausible, hence the Rio award. The final scenes usher in a note of melodrama, not handled altogether plausibly, which until then the script has cleverly sidestepped: but the final image is a masterly inversion of those of triumph which have brought so many sports movies to a happy close.

This is precisely Rosenfeld’s point, that Junior isn’t prepared for anything but playing soccer. And playing soccer, of course, to which he’s dedicated the best part of his time, has hardly prepared him for anything else. Interestingly and cleverly, the soccer scenes earlier on in the film emphasize the team aspect, as the players work out moves which are elegantly choreographed and the script shows us that his team is the society in which Junior lives and functions best. But -- metaphor alert -- later the focus is on Junior alone on the pitch, angrily and frustratingly screwing things up. These scenes, shot in slow motion, often outstay their welcome, though they do successfully chart Junior’s internal collapse.

Pedro Faerstein’s visuals rely throughout on fixed camera shots which again sometimes go on for an eternity, though some -- including an evocative early beach scene between Junior and Karine -- are memorable. But there are too many shots in which Junior is sitting alone, presumably unsuccessfully trying to get things together in his head. However great an actor someone is, there’s only limited dramatic mileage to be had from that, particularly when the shot is so insistently held on the face.

Production companies: Crisis Produtivas, Bubbles Project
Cast: Ariclenes Barroso, Sergio Malheiros, Julia Bernat, Karine Teles, Julio Adriao Bittencourt, Karine TelesAury Porto
Director, screenwriter: Ives Rosenfeld
Producers: Luis Alberto Gentile, Tatiana Leite
Director of photography: Pedro Faerstein
Editor: Karen Akerman
Composer: Lucas Vasconcelos
Sales: Pandora Filmes

No rating, 75 minutes