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Review: ‘Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil’ looks at the country’s horrifying Nazi past

Aloisio Silva in the documentary "Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil."
(Cinemaflix / Laemmle Theatres)

Director Belisario Franca based the chilling documentary “Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil,” which she co-wrote with Bianca Lenti, on a doctoral thesis by professor-historian Sidney Aguilar Filho. His research showed how, in the early 1930s, 50 black boys were moved from a Rio de Janeiro orphanage, under educational pretenses, to a São Paolo-area property owned by a wealthy, politically connected family of Nazi sympathizers. (Brazil was once home to the world’s second-largest Nazi party behind Germany.)

“Schooling” for these children soon gave way to slavery as they were held captive, punished, subjected to grueling farm and ranch-type labor, and “numbered” from one to 50.

The film zeroes in on survivors Aloísio Silva (“23”) and Argemiro Santos, both around 90 when interviewed here (Silva died in 2015), who poignantly and lengthily recount their years as unwitting young prisoners. During this time Brazil was immersed in eugenics, a “human improvement” movement that promoted, among other things, racial segregation.

The family of a third “forgotten boy,” the late José Alves de Almeida, also weighs in on the seemingly troubled De Almeida’s more complicated place within the work camp’s hierarchy.

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Input from historians, political scientists and other observers, as well as archival footage and photos, and impressionistic reenactment bits, round out this resonant, not untimely portrait of a dark and frightening chapter in Brazil’s past.

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‘Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil’

In Portuguese with English subtitles

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Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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