The filmmaker stands in front of a Brazilian slum and recites, into a hand-held microphone, statistics about the children of poverty and how they turn to crime. This is followed by two hours of pictures of youths raping one another, committing crimes ranging from purse-snatching to cold-blooded murder, suffering official brutality, and getting stoned.

Without that opening cliche from the television documentary -- feature films, including this one, do not need to use visible microphones -- it would be only coy (and unappetizing) pornography. With it, however, Hector Babenco's film "Pixote" is trying to pass itself off as sociology.

If so, it is a peculiar type, in which any struggle to improve conditions has been rendered useless in advance by an acceptance of total hopelessness, not only for the children but for the entire society. Nowhere in the film is there the slightest suggestion that a decent life is possible for anyone, or even desired by anyone. Those who ought to be compassionate are the biggest hypocrites, while the only satisfactions are the fleeting profits of depravity. Even the youngest of the children, the boy called Pixote, begins with an absence of human feeling as thorough as that of his elders.

Fernando Ramos da Silva, who plays the title role, is so hard when he enters a juvenile detention center that he is easily able to hold his own among the older inmates more practiced at viciousness. Unblinkingly, he submits to their ritualistic tests of cruelty and accepts their standards of criminality toward one another, as well as toward their oppressors. No twinge of kindness or fairness has touched him, which is not surprising, as he has never observed such a feeling.

But it is hard to wax indignant over a society's corrupting its children, unless we believe that they were born innocent and could conceivably lead better lives. This is not a film that interests itself in what went wrong or how anything could be improved, even in a small way.

It's a case of Ain't This Awful, lingering on the pain of a child's being sodomized, or on the mean face of a prostitute as she sits on the toilet and invites a child to observe the bloody body of a fetus she has just aborted. If we look, too, does that make us into righteous human beings taking a courageous and honest look at shocking reality?

PIXOTE -- At the Inner Circle.