Dir: Breno Silveira. Brazil. 2008. 117 mins.

A Romeo And Juliet tale about the doomed love between a Rio favela boy and a rich girl from Ipanema, Once Upon A Time (Era Uma Vez...) is a glossier, sudsier take on crime and poverty in the favelas than we have seenin films like City Of God, City Of Men and Elite Squad.

Directed by Silveira, whose last film was the local blockbuster Two Sons Of Francisco, Once Upon A Time... is tailor-made for the Brazilian market where it opened on July 25 and has grossed over $2.25m to date. Co-produced by Sony Pictures as part of its local language programme, it is exactly the type of well-produced, narratively-conventional mainstream title that all the studios are now targeting for specific territories.

International sales might be challenging. Buyers used to more uncompromising Rio stories will find it hard to position the film as a theatrical arthouse film, especially since it spins such a familiar yarn and might draw flack from critics for romanticising the social issues involved.

Silveira certainly has a populist touch as a film-maker - Two Sons, after all, scored over 5.3m admissions - and his style here is fluid and polished, with none of the hand-held grittiness that has marked the favela movie to date.

The story itself is set up in melodramatic terms, with an opening flashback showing how a young footballing hopeful is targeted and gunned down by a mindless drug dealer in the Cantagalo slums, leaving behind his little brother De and his older brother Carlao. The gangster banishes Carlao from the favela and he ends up in prison on false charges.

De (Martins), on the other hand, grows up to be honest, working as a hotdog vendor at a kiosk on Ipanema beach. From there he observes the comings and goings of a beautiful girl called Nina (Frate), the only child of a rich businessman who lives in one of the expensive apartments on the beachfront. One night De saves her from a mugging and the two gradually fall in love.

Just as the two are enraptured by first love, Carlao (Pitanga) is sprung out of prison in order to seize control of the favela, which he does, killing the gangster who killed his brother and making promises of a new era of peace and prosperity. But the prosperity is shortlived, and De and Nina get caught in the crossfire.

Once Upon A Time is the second biggest Brazilian hit this year after Rio crime epic My Name Is Not Johnny and paints another tragic portrait of the cycle of violence which curses the favelas. Unusually, Silveira opts for a palette of bright colours and sunshine far removed from the harsh urban tones of the previous favela films, but perhaps more in keeping with reality - Cantaglo is literally a few streets away from the sun-seeking tourists on the beach.

A point of interest is that the fresh-faced Martins is a favela boy himself who had been trained in an actors' workshop in the Nos do Morro slums before getting his big break in City Of God. He appears over the end credits talking about his own experiences.

Production companies
Conspiração Filmes
Globo Filmes
Sony Pictures Entertainment

International sales
Vereda Filmes (+ 55 21 8312 2810)

Breno Silveira
Pedro Buarque de Hollanda

Patricia Andrade

Director of photography
Dudu Miranda & Paulo Souza

Production designer
Rafael Ronconi

Eduardo Hartung

Berna Ceppas

Main cast
Thiago Martins
Vitoria Frate
Rocco Pitanga
Cyria Coentro
Paulo Cesar Grande