Brazilian actress Alice Braga (niece of legendary Sonia Braga) is something special: beautiful and innocent without make-up, seasoned and hard in a pair of short shorts and a gold push-up bra. Braga's on screen presence as twenty-year old prostitute Karinna is so compelling that she essentially carries Sérgio Machado's oh-so-earnest debut film Lower City.
Passions run at a frenzied pitch on the Brazilian isle of Bahia. Bodily fluids flow freely: blood, sweat, urine, sperm, vomit, and tears. The close friendship of the amiable Deco (Lázaro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura) becomes tested when they both fall for Karinna. Deco and Naldinho co-own a steamship; they are young, sympathetic, and loyal; it's difficult not to think of young Tenoch and Julio in Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mama Tambien, boyhood buddies who also spar over a woman.
The major difference between the two films is humor: the working class heroes of Lower City can't seem to afford a laugh; they can't even get a break. Their needs--food, sex, housing--come across as all too urgent: even a simple night of drunken carousing at a cockfight leads to a knife fight.
Machado elicits moving performances from his young actors. The early sex scenes are extremely well executed--steamy and sexy and intimate. But Karinna, a prostitute by trade, never seems to tire of the constant sexual demands her suitors make on her. By the eleventh or twelfth simulated sex act, all the passion (and fluids) turn sticky and stale.