Goddamn, Lower City is gorgeous. Shot in the Brazilian city of Salvador Bahia, director Sérgio Machado and cinematographer Toca Seabra have created a film that's full of nearly tangible, sweltering tropical heat and rundown, artfully aged modernity. Simultaneously stylized and utterly believable, Lower City is eye candy of the most addictive and cavity-inducing sort.
Past the visuals, though, things get a little trickier. Childhood friends Deco (Lázaro Ramos) and Naldinho (Wagner Moura) own a boat; fast friends, nothing can come between them—well, except for Karinna (Alice Braga), who puts out for both men in exchange for a quick boat ride. But what starts out simply—a business decision, a fuck or two—quickly grows complicated, and soon the three find themselves caught in a complex love triangle, one that's fed by passionate, near-constant sex, yet hampered by Karinna's prostituting and Deco and Naldinho's crime connections.
Lower City's three leads are all impressive, making complex, sensual characters seem real and alive; likewise, director Machado keeps the plot fluid and naturalistic, the characters' organic, heartfelt drama slowly boiling to the surface. But ultimately, one can never shake the impression that Lower City is just another, grittier take on Y Tu Mamá También, and the film's unsatisfying ending seems to leave all the passion and beauty of the film for naught. Once one's past the film's gorgeous cinematography and searing performances, all the erotic, visceral, and visual thrills boil down to... well, not much. All that Lower City ultimately says is this: Life is hard, and love is harder. Which is a moral that you probably don't need to hear again, even if a film as sexy and striking as this one is telling it to you.