Like a modern-day Father Damian, dedicated social activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello ministers to Brazil's social lepers, street children and youngsters from poverty-stricken homes in the favelas (slums). German filmmaker Monika Treut's straightforward documentary follows the poised, handsome and apparently tireless de Mello as she explains her philosophy of working with damaged children, discusses the difficulty of finding donations and recruiting volunteers and takes to the mean streets in search of lost boys and girls whose lives she might be able to improve, if only incrementally. Treut's camera often lingers on the drawn, wary faces of children on the street or at various centers de Mello has established, and their misery is evident. De Mello's work is often lonely, frequently heartbreaking and always dangerous drug dealers rule the favelas, and the police in Rio De Janeiro have a history of violence against street children. In 1993, 40 homeless youngsters were attacked while sleeping in front of the Candelaria Church in downtown Rio and eight died; de Mello's ministrations to survivors of the high-profile incident helped make her a celebrity. Born into a once-wealthy middle-class family, de Mello grew up feeling like an outcast: She attended an exclusive school among far wealthier classmates, was the only student from a divorced family and excelled academically so effortlessly that she took to deliberately flubbing questions so she wouldn't stand out so much. A beauty, she married young and had three children, then divorced her husband amicably, she says and went to work. Her second marriage, to an older, very wealthy hotelier, allowed de Mello to grassroots charity work. But though her husband is supportive, her work made her an outcast among many of his elite peers, who regard the poverty stricken urchins many of them illiterate, drug addicted and sick with undisguised contempt, dismissing them as criminals and victims of their own moral failings. Treut's documentary is shapeless and feels longer than it is, primarily because the interviews with children, however charming the individual youngsters, are repetitive. De Mello's dedication is inspiring enough to speak for itself.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: Like a modern-day Father Damian, dedicated social activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello ministers to Brazil's social lepers, street children and youngsters from poverty-stricken homes in the favelas (slums). German filmmaker Monika Treut's straightforward docum… (more)