Dir: Lucia Morat. Braz-Fr-Chile. 2004. 102mins

AlmostBrothers, whichfollows two childhood friends as they confront Brazil's social apartheid, maybe flawed but it is consistently compelling. Political activist-turned-directorLucia Morat has been perhaps overly ambitious in the task she sets herself, butwhen the film gels, it is gripping stuff.

One of the best films to emerge from Brazil in the pastyear, it has fielded a clutch of festival awards including the audience prizeand the Best Iberoamerican film at Mar Del Plata; best director, actor andLatin American Film (FIPRESCI) at Rio and official selection at Toronto,Montreal, Biarritz and Guadalajara.

Now positionedon One Eyed Films' slate for Cannes, it looks good for medium-sizedinternational arthouse crossover and is certain to attract fans of recentBrazilian cinema such as City Of God.

Co-scripted byPaolo Lins, who also provided City Of God's source novel, Morat's filmis similarly anchored in Brazil's slums, the favelas, although the lion's shareof Almost Brothers is set in a prison.

Told largely inflashback, it relates the story of white, middle-class Miguel and blackslum-dweller Jorge who meet through their parents' music, and whoserelationship gels during a lengthy incarceration in the remote Ilha Grande jailin the 1970s. These sequences have an undeniable ring of authenticity and itcomes as no surprise to discover that Morat and her husband were imprisonedhere during the same period as Almost Brothers depicts.

Miguel, anidealist, has been locked away for political activism and continues his questbehind bars, but Jorge is in jail for petty theft. It is the events that takeplace here which define their relationship and their future lives. The filmaims to prove that no matter what their ideals, Jorge and Miguel will beknocked back by their - and Brazil's - circumstances.

Black, white, middle-class, slum dweller: cut to thepresent day, and the pair, Miguel now a senator and Jorge a favela druglord,meet once again behind bars. Meanwhile, Miguel's daughter is perverselypursuing a relationship with one of Jorge's gun-happy enforcers.

Throughout these three time periods and played out over30 years, Morat tackles recurring themes: race, social justice and, ultimately,the futility of the mismatched friends' dreams. This can be powerful stuff butit suffers second-act doldrums when Morat's decision to flick through the threetime lines becomes confusing and off-putting, while the political context ofBrazil in the 1970s could have been made clearer.

But AlmostBrothers picks up the pace for a stirring finale played out against thebackdrop of carnival, scored beautifully by Nana Vasconcelos.

Prod cos: Taiga Filmes, Ceneca Prods, TS Prods
Int'l sales:
One EyedFilms
Braz dist:
Exec prods:
AiltonFranco Jr, Branca Murat
Lucia Murat
Paulo Lins,Lucia Morats
Mair Tavares
Main cast:
WernerSchuenemann, Antonio Pompeo, Caco Ciocler, Flavio Bauraqui, Maria Flor