June 24, 2008
Continuing in the vein of Justice, Maria Ramos's examination of the Brazilian justice system, Behave is an equally potent and sobering social inquiry into the state's juvenile re-socialization program. Working within the limitations of protecting the identity of the young offenders' identities, the film is predominantly shot facing Judge Luciana Fiala, a conscientious juvenile court justice who struggles to strike the right balance between humanity and reinforcing punishment in dispensing sentences (which often represents confinement at dirty and overcrowded juvenile detention centers where few resources are available to foster their rehabilitation) to the often poor and uneducated offenders who are brought before her. Enlisting non-actors from favelas to stand-in for the underaged offenders in re-enacted countershots (who often share similar experiences with these institutions) and repeat their given responses to the judge, the stories invariably converge towards underlying motivations of despair, gullibility, boredom, and ignorance: a first-time offender describes following the orders of his older friends to hold a gun during a robbery (perhaps knowing that, if apprehended, their sentences would be harsher), prompting the judge to ask the trite and true question of whether or not he would also jump off a bridge if asked; a young mother, desperate for money, is caught stealing a tourist's camera and now frets over being separated from her child if she is sent to detention; a girl brought in for shoplifting tries to manipulate her mother's already frayed emotions by suggesting that she would prefer detention over accepting the judge's offer of leniency and returning home on probation, prompting the surprised judge to remark that she has been spoiled too much; a boy who admits to the fatal stabbing of his father in his sleep tells of the family's continual abuse when his father would come home drunk, a sad reality corroborated by his mother, even as she expresses conflicted emotion over the lost income that his death represents; a boy found dealing a small amount of drugs supplied by a local gang is given partial probation to go home on the weekends with a stern recommendation to his mother that the family move away from the slums in order to avoid retaliation for the confiscated drugs - a well-meaning advice that proves impossible given the family's already meager finances. As in Raymond Depardon's "justice" films (especially Tenth District Court: Moments of Trial) Ramos's unobtrusive, yet lucid camera confronts the nature of our own complicit humor in observing the lives of the underprivilege and their intimidating experiences within an impersonal justice system, where rhetorical remarks by educated jurists are met with earnest, if confused attempts by undereducated offenders to respectfully answer the questions, and unfamiliarity with their constitutional rights during the judicial process leads to unnecessary bureaucracy and unforeseen consequences - a reality acutely illustrated by the bittersweet closing episode of a young father who, unaware of what parole meant, sneaked out of the detention center as he was being processed for release, and is forced to stand again before the judge after being re-arrested for his escape attempt.