Narratives about young men growing up in the slums tend to follow a similar trajectory: They bank on a long-shot dream of getting out, tragedy strikes, they may or may not get out. What matters in a film like Hermano, Venezuela’s official entry for 2011’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, aren’t the twists and turns of the plot, which are utterly predictable, but in how well it evokes the setting and how much complexity its characters have beyond their pie-in-the-sky aspirations. Though it’s rare to see Venezuelan films of any kind venture past the small-festival circuit, the worst thing that could be said about Hermano is that its vision of a Caracas slum doesn’t seem particular to any city, nor do its heroes seem specific to the country. It’s generic when it means to be universal.
The emotional arm-twisting commences in a prologue where a single mother from the La Ceniza slum picks up a crying baby abandoned in a pile of garbage. Sixteen years later, that baby has grown into Fernando Moreno, an electric striker for the local soccer team who, along with his brother, Eliú Armas, a stout midfielder, is attracting the attention of professional scouts. But on the eve of their tryout with the Caracas Fútbol Club, Moreno gets mugged for his shoes, and a teammate (Alí Rondon) with gang connections and spectacularly awful aim accidentally shoots their mother while seeking retribution for this petty crime. Armas, in turn, wants justice for his mother’s death, but Moreno doesn’t tell him who did it, even though he witnessed the shooting from a nearby rooftop.
Moreno keeping this information away from his older brother represents the only intrigue in Hermano; the secret comes between them at a time when they need each other the most. But the drama mostly serves to raise the stakes of the soccer games, with their predictable last-second goals and miraculous comebacks. Scoring goals in soccer is hard. Hermano earns its points too easily.