Hermano is part sports film, part neorealist drama and a fully successful debut feature from Venezuelan director Marcel Rasquín. The sport is fútbol, the only avenue of escape from the La Ceniza barrio available to brothers Julio (Eliu Armas) and Daniel (Fernando Moreno). Daniel is a naturally gifted player, while older brother Julio is a born leader. When a professional team scout from Caracas comes to investigate Daniel, the younger brother insists he is part of a package deal that includes Julio. Julio is a little more preoccupied with obtaining street justice for a tragedy that befalls the family, and considers Daniel’s preoccupation with his own ambition disgraceful.
That is the scenario from Julio’s perspective, however. Rasquín’s film, like his filmmaking, is more complex and nuanced than that. Daniel was an abandoned baby crying in garbage when Julio, who thought the sound came from a cat, and his mother found him. Graciela (Marcela Girón) raises them like brothers as she struggles to make a living making expertly designed cakes, but grown-up Julio is a natural alpha male who playfully chides virginal, slightly built Daniel. Daniel’s love for Julio runs so deep he won’t divulge a crucial detail that could allow Julio to get his revenge, but prevent Daniel from getting them out of La Ceniza.
Rasquín avoids the easy path. There is an explosive climax, but also an unexpected ending that transcends the trappings of overcoming-the-odds sports melodrama. The real story involves the family ties that complicate barrio life. Julio is responsible for the team, the barrio gang for which he collects debts, and the mother and adopted brother under his care. Something was bound to give, and Rasquín leads us there with tasteful applications of jump cuts and slow motion, while creating a you-are-there feel in the barrio and on the sports field. MATT KELEMEN