Rio Breaks
R0 - United Kingdom - Mr. Bongo Films
Review written by and copyright: Neil Bray (19th August 2011).
The Film

From the press release: “Life in the notorious favelas of Rio de Janeiro is tough, with its immense poverty, drug crime and violence on every corner, but if you look out over the horizon you are met with views of some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, replete with the stunning ocean perfect for surfing.”

“13-year-old Fabio and 12-year-old Naama live at Favela do Pavao, an enormous slum near Arpoador Beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pavao is home to Commando Vermelho, or Red Command, one of Rio’s most heavily armed drug gangs, who rule the community. Their presence is ubiquitous, with gun-toting “soldiers”, mostly teenagers, patrolling the hills and shooting a warning every time a police car comes into sight.”

Generally speaking I’m not a fan of documentaries; actually, to be precise, I would never buy one. I will watch them on television; but it is usually when I haven’t got anything better to watch. So it was that I wasn’t overly excited to receive Rio Breaks to review.

However, within seconds of the film starting I was totally immersed. Following the lives of Fabio and Naama as they juggle staying out of trouble with the drug gangs and visiting their beloved beach to surf, the documentary has an easy style that pulls you into their world immediately. Both boys are charismatic in their own way and very quickly you become invested in their lives as the film covers a couple of years and details their home lives, schooling, family history, hopes and fears; and of course their love of surfing. And it is here that the film truly becomes something special.

The surfing sequences are exhilarating, the soundtrack is brilliant; adding an extra layer to the film, but, it is the cinematography as a whole which elevates this documentary to filmic standards. Director Justin Mitchell obviously loves the subject and photographs it with a cinematic flair many other directors’ would envy; and quite a few should try to emulate.

However, the surfing sequences only serve to highlight how tragic the rest of these boys’ lives really are. It’s practically unimaginable that these kids live in such a violent environment, where stepping outside their door every day is a game of Russian roulette; yet, somehow, they manage to have smiles on their faces and hopes for the future. Listening to these boys casually talking about shootings, bodies being burned near their soccer field or finding body parts is utterly heartbreaking; but pulling them ever onwards is their love of surfing. To most of us, the thought of living in such a constantly violent environment is unthinkable; but to these boys it’s all they’ve ever known, so they deal with it and get on with their lives. The film shows just how beautiful Rio de Janeiro is; but also that the beauty really is only skin deep.

While I know I will never watch this documentary again, I can honestly say that I am very happy that I’ve watched it at least once; and I recommend any lover of documentaries to do the same.


Presented in 1.85:1 and enchanced for 16.9 TVs, the picture quality here is excellent. DVD quality at its best, especially on the frequent surfing sequences. Vivid colours abound and night scenes are not too dark.


The only sound option is an English DD 5.1 track. Large sections of the documentary are in Portuguese, and on these sections there are forced English subtitles. This is a great sound audio track; especially on the many pieces of latin-themed, thumping music.


Scene Access.


Bittersweet and fascinating, this is a brilliantly filmed and directed documentary about a very violent place and the huge amount of hope for the future hidden within it. Watch it!

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B Extras: F Overall: B


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