The basic premise of Stolen Dreams, directed by Sandra Werneck, will be familiar to many movie-goers: three young women in a desperate situation who turn to prostitution hoping for easy money and a chance to turn their lives around. Sabrina (Kiki Farias), Jessica (Nanda Costa), and Daiane (Amanda Diniz) are teenagers living in a slum in Brazil and facing difficult home lives. Jessica has a daughter who the father’s family is trying to take away, while Sabrina continues to mourn the death of her mother and Daiane lives with her aunt and her sexually abusive uncle.  The girls long for cell phones and expensive jeans, but the material things they want remain just out of reach.

Almost by accident, Jessica and Sabrina fall into prostitution, while the younger Daiane is caught between wanting to keep up with her friends and still being almost unbelievably child-like and immature. The relationship between these three girls, though, is where the movie begins to fall flat. We are given little backstory for any of the characters other than their poverty, and the conversations that they share veer between incredibly banal (hair products and clothing) and clumsily expository. (There is a scene in which the trio visits Sabrina’s mother’s grave and she explains that her mother is dead—if these three are so close, wouldn’t they presumably have been aware of this?) These relationships, which should be central to the film and to generate empathy from the viewer, do little to advance the story. It seems almost as though the three stories could exist independently of one another. Daiane’s is perhaps the most interesting, but little is done to explore how her abuse might have led to her extremely child-like demeanor and obsession with a father who wants nothing to do with her.
As the movie progresses, the girls find that their new lifestyles come at a price. The father of Jessica’s son takes legal steps to have him removed from her care after discovering that Jessica is a prostitute, while Sabrina becomes pregnant by a man who denies his responsibility in raising the child. Daiane, in her extreme naiveté, only dreams of having her completely uninterested and uncaring father dance with her at her fifteenth birthday party. What becomes clear is that this is a movie about children: being one, having one, the consequences of caring for one. Were the film to have more fully explored this angle, perhaps it would have been able to give a unique—or at least more interesting—perspective on life and poverty in Brazil.

The conclusions of the girls’ stories are unsurprising. The men they interact with behave exactly as we expect them to, ranging from savior to scum (the “criminal with a heart of gold” story is such a cliché that you almost expect a twist at the end), and you have to wonder whether the characters actually learned anything at all. The conclusion to Daiane’s story is perhaps the most emotional, but only because it is always difficult to watch a child have her heart broken.

It seems as though the director was relying on the pathos of the characters’ reality to give the story weight and drama, but poverty is not a character trait and simply putting women in these dire situations does not make the story meaningful. Technically the film is also inconsistent. Though the cinematography by Walter Carvalho is often striking and rich, the soundtrack and sound editing are clumsy. The background music for the film sounds dated and inappropriate, even to someone unfamiliar with the trends in Brazilian music, and the cuts between songs and scenes are jarring.

Ultimately, Stolen Dreams does nothing to distinguish itself in the canon of films about life in the slums, which has already been thoroughly picked over. Though the girls are undoubtedly in tragic situations, the lack of character development makes it difficult for us to be satisfied with the story or invested in its conclusion.

Stolen Dreams/Sonhous Robados, Dir. Sandra Werneck, Brazil, 2010, 90 mins

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