There are at least three subplots in Marcel Rasquin’s Hermano. For a soccer movie that clocks in around 90 minutes, that’s an unusually high number; for a genre that tends to be formulaic and transparent (the inspirational sports movie), it’s downright remarkable. Are all of these subplots necessary? Absolutely not. It seems that Rasquin’s goal (pun not intended) was to buck tradition and merge two disparate ideas for the sake of distinction. The result is an incredibly overwrought, bloated narrative that is as tireless as the aspiring futbolistas that populate it. Yet such excess is also what sets it apart from the rest of the field (pun somewhat intended), and truth be told, I couldn’t stop talking about it for the next 48 hours.
Hermano, which means brother in Spanish, literally concerns a pair of brothers from La Ceniza, an impoverished town outside of Caracas, Venezuela with both a solid local soccer club and rampant gang violence. Daniel (Fernando Moreno) and Julio (Eliú Armas) are the two best players on La Ceniza’s team, and their excellence attracts a scout from the Caracas Fútbol Club, notably the most popular and successful side in Venezuela’s professional league. At only 16, Daniel is a promising goal-scorer and impressionable virgin, while the eldest is the captain and family breadwinner by means of organized skullduggery. Being drafted by Caracas would be their ticket out of the barrio, of course, but the plan is jeopardized early on when their mother is accidentally shot by another gang member and Daniel becomes an inadvertent and unknown witness. This happens just as we’re getting to know Daniel and Julio, and the family dynamics are still developing. Sudden and utterly shocking, it sets the stage for Julio’s lust for revenge. It also changes the direction of the narrative, allowing for the aforementioned subplots and gratuitous deviations.
Part of me wants to spoil some of the more evident plot holes and flights from filmic sanity. But I will try not to, because they may come off as even more senseless if I describe them. Maybe it should be approached with pointed questions, like: Was the writer trying to sneak in a pro-life message? Or, did the goalkeeper need to murder all those children to protect his identity? These anomalies overshadow the finer aspects, especially the great, dusty cinematography provided by Enrique Aular. For those interested in soccer, the pace and footwork displayed in Hermano is top-notch. Moreno and Armas are both talented soccer players, and if they used doubles at all in the production, it is hardly noticeable. I can’t discount the acting abilities of these two young men either, as they show total commitment to the roles. However, as the drama escalates, with Daniel irresolutely abiding the code of the barrio, Julio’s antics bring out the bathos of his character.
Hermano begins to unravel in the second half (again, pun not intended). Both boys try out for the Caracas Fútbol Club, but the action shifts much of its focus to the gang and the familial conflict they’re embroiled in. The metaphors for brotherhood become so explicit they overshadow the dialogue. Even with the subtitles and subtleties lost in translation, they seem like forced gestures. In the most affecting and character-defining scene, Daniel declines an offer from the franchise he adores so Julio can have a chance to be signed. But that moment is followed by a series of sequences and speeches that undermine this progress. The ending, a pivotal final match between local clubs, is almost surreal. After watching it again, I was still left pondering the same question I had asked upon my initial viewing: What the fuck just happened there?