Rio de Janeiro, just before the start of the new millennium. Neither João nor Maria expect to join the massive celebrations: he's serving 30 years in a filthy jail, while she, a teacher of the deaf, simply wants to pass the time quietly at home with partner Pedro. Then everything changes. Maria wakes on the last day of the year to discover Pedro's farewell note. João takes advantage of an escape facilitated by guards who insist freedom has its price: he must kill an informer, who just happens to be his old friend Chico. This wonderful assured drama (intended originally for TV) is part gritty thriller, part psychological study of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and part discreet comment on the poverty, injustice and corruption permeating Brazil. Crucially, it all hangs together, thanks to vivid performances, exceptional 'Scope camerawork and the pace and flair with which the separate stories are intercut. As in Salles' earlier work, the metaphors and symbols are worn so lightly that even the Christian imagery never weighs down what is finally a tale of betrayal, sin, redemption and rebirth. Brief flashes of optimism notwithstanding, it's a remarkably tough, unsentimental film.