As the famous idiom goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and nowhere is this phrase is more visible than in the landfill sites on the outskirts of megacities in developing countries. Here, the dump is a hive of activity and home to thousands who working through the mountains of rubbish to find something of value, from plastic bottles and cardboard boxes which can be sold to recycling plants, to antique coins and wallets containing secrets. According to Trash, the latter of these may be the most valuable, but also the most incredibly dangerous.
Based on a book of the same name by Andy Mulligan, Trash tells the story of young Raphael (Rickson Teves) who finds such a wallet and, with two of his friends, attempts to unravel the riddle of the contents. The secrets within leads them to a corrupt governing class and a small, diffuse group of rebels who are trying to bring down the established order. A standard David versus Goliath story but with an original setting and a wholly likeable protagonist.
The children in the film are well acted by Teves, Eduardo Luis (as Gardo) and Gabriel Weinstein (Rato) and are partially under the stewardship of a somewhat disenchanted Father Juilliard (Martin Sheen). The boys are often cheeky and quite funny in spite of the difficulty that dominates their daily lives, reaching out to the sympathy of the audience, endearing us to their plight of social injustice and police brutality.
While some films with larger budgets can fail in having characters the audience actually cares about, Trash spends its time developing its subjects into real people who we truly are concerned for. Though never explicitly mentioned, Trash is presumably set in Brazil, and the film’s release comes soon after protests in several Brazilian cities last year regarding unequal distribution of wealth and seemingly frivolous spending on preparations for the FIFA World Cup, a topic which is specifically alluded to in the film, albeit only briefly.
Brief is one way to describe the film’s attempts to explore social issues, unprobing one another. While Trash never really deeply explores the causes and consequences of inequality, we are made acutely aware that when a child in such adverse circumstances has no dutiful guardian to care for them, they won’t be protected by the law. This is made particularly clear during one scene when one of the children is beaten, indirectly, by police officers.
Being set in Brazil, the majority of the film is in Portuguese, with some English. As ever with subtitles, it is difficult to determine whether the script is poor or something has been lost in translation. But, given that the source material was originally in English, I am inclined to believe that the weaker lines of dialogue (some of which really are quite dire) are the result of bad artistic choices as opposed to subpar interpretation. Interestingly, not all of the dialogue is subtitled. Guards and police officers are often left in Portuguese, creating a sense of otherness and an air of danger and detachment that successfully enhances misunderstanding and conflict.
Brief is one way to describe the film’s attempts to explore social issues, unprobing one another.
The trio of children struggling in an adult and poverty-stricken world is reminiscent of 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, and manages to transmit the ephemeral “feel good factor” (even if director Stephen Daldry does so with less success and less subtlety than in Danny Boyle’s film), but a series of unlikely events somewhat cheapens the ending and makes the film’s portrayal of Brazil less authentic.
Overall however, Trash requests you to think that the world is not always such a bad place, or it can at least help you convince yourself that this is true in cinema.