“Hermano” is a Venezuelan production directed by Marcel Rasquin. The movie is set in present-day (2010’s) Caracas, Venezuela, with most of the action taking place in a shantytown on the outskirts of the city. If you like soccer, drama, and you want to look at the power of family — even when said family is not bound by blood — then you need to take a look at this movie. A word of warning: This movie has a lot of mature subject matter scenes in it. It includes scenes of drug use, extreme violence, and an ending that will leave you breathless if you have a heart at all.
“Hermano” opens in Caracas with a young mother and a child walking up some stairs next to a large garbage heap. The child, Julio, hears a crying baby in the trash and runs to it. The mom follows Julio and they both find and embrace the baby. The years go by and we see Julio and Daniel (aka “Gato”, Spanish for cat, the baby all grown up) playing soccer on a dirt field and with rudimentary equipment. They win the game by playing brilliantly between themselves, as they have done so all their lives together. Upon winning the game, they are informed of two things. First, they will play the championship game in a week’s time, and, secondly, a scout from the local professional team wants them to try out for said team. Gato is more than happy to try out, but Julio has a job on the side that distracts him from playing.
One of the side stories in the plot is the story of Sol, a young girl who is Gato’s love interest. She has become pregnant by another boy and is considering having an abortion. Because of his love for her, Gato offers to come with her to the abortion clinic. While at the clinic, Gato convinces Sol to not have the abortion and that everything will be fine. They leave the clinic and Sol comes clean to his parents about her predicament. Her mother offers to take Sol away. As they say goodbye, Gato tells Sol that he will come see her and the baby. This happens moments before the big championship game, and so the stakes are raised for him even more to win the game.
The stakes were already high, however. After the tryouts for the professional team, Gato is contacted by the team officials. They offer him a contract to start playing in their minor leagues However, the contract did not include Julio; he was seen as too much of a hothead and not worthy of a professional team despite his talent. Gato refuses the contract, telling the officials that they have to come see him and his brother play the championship game. To this, the coach warns that they will not consider either of the brothers if they lose the game. Gato tells the coach that together he and his brother are invincible.
While all of that is going on, Julio finds himself more and more intertwined with the local gang and the gang’s leader. The gang leader warns Julio to leave “the life” and become a better person. In a very tense scene, the gang leader tells Julio that none of his peers will be alive in two years. He tells him this to encourage him to leave the gang and go be a soccer player. Julio starts a brawl with the gang leader, and, as punishment, he has his right hand broken with a mallet.
The reason why Julio went to the gang leader’s lair and started the fight is the main story behind the whole movie. While coming home, Gato runs into a small group of kids who are known as the “huffers” because they huff glue all day. The huffers take away Gato’s soccer cleats and throw them up onto some power wires. Gato angrily goes to get a pole to get the cleats off the wire. Meanwhile, Max, a teammate of the boys’ and a gang member himself, goes after the huffers and threatens them with a gun. When the huffers run away, he opens fire on one of them and accidentally shoots Julio and Gato’s mother. Gato witnesses this without Max knowing. One of the huffers is chased by Max until Max finds all the huffers and kills them all in cold blood. Gato desperately takes his mother to a hospital, but she dies there.
The rest of the movie, even during the tryouts and the ensuing championship game, Julio continues to seek revenge for his mother’s murder, not knowing that the murderer was Max, his teammate and “brother” in the gang. Innocent people get hurt, and Gato almost loses his chance at the professional team. Through all that, Gato tries to get Julio to forget about vengeance and to focus on soccer. They go as far as having a one-on-one soccer match in a dilapidated building where Gato bets Julio that if Gato wins Julio will go to the championship game and forget about vengeance.
Once at the championship game, with a professional contract on the line, the team coach tells Julio that Gato risked a lot and hid the identity of their mother’s killer to get them both out of the “barrio” and into the professional soccer team. Upon hearing this, Julio helps Gato tie the game, but then Julio walks away, telling his brother that he is free to become a professional and get out and that all that Julio wanted was revenge. Upon hearing this, Gato scores the last goal, ensuring their win and a professional contract for Julio…
Stop right here if you don’t want the ending spoiled. You’ve been warned.
…Gato then runs to Max and beats him to death, giving Julio the revenge he needed. The gang members storm the field to defend Max and a shootout ensues. The image then fades to black as Julio holds Gato by the shoulders. The image then returns to a scene at “Caracas CF” stadium. The players come out and take the field. The camera goes from one player to another, ending with Julio. He crosses himself and sends a kiss up to the sky. Gato is nowhere to be seen.
The ending is a bit ambiguous. Having killed Max and avenged his mother, did Gato get killed or get sent to prison? But the rest of the narrative really gets wrapped up tight in the end, even if it is an ending that shocked and left me breathless and covered in tears. Throughout the whole movie, Gato did his best to get a better for Julio. Yes, he wanted a better life for himself, and it seemed selfish that he didn’t go after Max or otherwise bring Max to justice, but it was all for Julio.
Even though they were not brothers by blood, Gato and Julio were willing to give it all for each other. Gato finally did give it all for Julio. He killed their mother’s murderer and won the game to get Julio out of “the life”. It was all along a story of sacrifice.