Ricardo Elias' feature The 12 Labors embodies a counterpoint between the strains of ancient Greek myth and the classic Brazilian movies that depict, grittily and uncompromisingly, the rules and risks of street life in Rio and São Paulo (such as Pixote and City of God). The film's title refers to the 12 labors of Heracles, a cognomen shared by Elias' central character; both figures personify human pathos. The Heracles of the picture (Sidney Santiago) is an 18-year-old resident of a Brazilian reformatory, who gets released from that institution and immediately takes a job as a motorcycle courier through the streets of São Paulo -- one of several hundred thousand young men with that assignment. Along his initial route, he confronts a dozen obstacles of increasing size and intensity, which parallel the challenges faced by his Greek counterpart -- and encounters unexpected assistance from a series of characters who turn up to lend a hand, like the deities of old. Despite its inherent difficulties, the journey hones, develops, and strengthens Heracles' sense of character and self-worth. When coupled with a third-person voice-over that runs throughout the picture, the film spirals toward the conclusion that Heracles may find some redemption via his own inherent artistic ability and seemingly limitless imaginative capacity -- if he can only survive the concrete threats posed by street life.
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