“It’s a western about the third world,” the news ticker says at the start of 1968’s The Red Light Bandit. Its hero, played by Pablo Villaça, is a soulful, slim rapist and murderer from a favela, whose mother tried to abort him so that he wouldn’t starve. He’s here to complete “the most complete of all criminal districts”: the Boca do Lixo.
The Red Light Bandit is an electric, legendary movie, one Brazilian cinephiles know practically by heart. Its director, Rogério Sganzerla, was 21 years old when he made it, and the anarchic energy of his “Zorro of the poor” could only have been captured by someone so young. Imagine a city kid drunk on comic books and radio plays and getting the neighbors to act them out with him. Then imagine, through the fantasy, a city revealed. “A punk tried to take a wallet from another punk,” a cop says. “However, both were penniless.”