City Of Men (2007)
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City Of Men (2007)

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The film ‘City of Men’ attempts to combine a few of the tried and true genres popular in film. First it is based on a popular television series in Portugal. It may seem strange to some viewers in the States but there are popular TV shows in South America and the same push to see feature length films based on them is in play there. In this case the inspiration for the film comes from a cult classic TV series in Brazil. Next, the movie employs the themes of the buddy flick and coming of age story. The protagonists here are two young men entering adulthood in the midst of violence and turmoil. While it is often a difficult matter to balance such genres successfully this film does it providing a gritty, realistic drama. There are some moments when it tips over to the melodramatic but they are not frequent and can be forgiven. Many of the topics that film focuses on are universal, unfortunately. There is the growing problem induced by the proliferation of the drug business. The wealth and power of the people at the top of this illegal trade are in stark contrast to the degree of poverty that the population lives. For those out there keeping track this film represents a story coming full circle. The television series was a spin off of the Brazilian film, ‘City of God’. As far as I know the television series is not available on DVD both ‘City of God’ is and now thanks to Miramax you can accompany that with ‘City of Men’. While the first film is stronger in its impact both are very good and would make a fantastic double feature at home.

The story is from the team of Elena Soarez and Paulo Morelli. Both worked on the screenplay and provide a strong script that focuses on the lives of two boys trying to grow up in the ghettos or favelas of Rio de Janeiro. One of the basic themes explored here is practically as old as cinema itself; the contrast of how the lives of two boyhood friends turn out. In a fashion similar to the old forties gangster flicks one boy is more studious and centered while the other is drawn by the siren call of the drug trade. If you are old enough to remember the old flicks there was usually two brothers, one a gangster the other either a District Attorney or a priest. The same sort of contrast is demonstrated here but the separation of the paths they take is not as distinct ass with their American counterparts. What an American audience can take away from this story is the universal nature of poverty. People no matter where they live will strive to make a better life for themselves and all too often that will mean resorting to illegal enterprises. Some pretty serious themes are explored in this story. The most poignant is that of fatherhood. The boys never really knew their father. While one is searching for his the other boy finds himself a teenaged father with the task ahead of being there for his son and guiding him through the arduous life ahead. This again is universal and something men all over the world have to face on a daily basis. Teen parenthood is often depicted on screen from the mother’s point of view but it is reassuring that here the story demonstrates that the teen father is also responsible for the life they brought into the world. Violence is shown as just part of life in the slums of this beautiful part of the world. Gun fire is not uncommon and is there almost in a mundane fashion than the threat it actually represents. This may seem odd but it may be part of the story that the writers are trying to tell. People adapt to almost anything. If you live in place where a gunshot is common place you know intellectually that it is a threat to your life but you have become numbed to it as well.

Paulo Morelli took on the directing responsibilities for this movie. To his credit he has some experience here. He directed several episodes of the television series and a couple of dramatic films. He does seem that he felt it necessary to use the two main characters as prisms through which every detail of the story has to pass. It would have had a more natural feel if more of the events impacted the two boys in a more peripheral fashion guiding their actions instead of forcing it. Because of the change in the focus of the story from the original film Morelli had to take a different tack in his directorial style. It is more relaxed that the one used by his processor in ‘City of God’. There is less adrenalin and more heart and mind present here. You experience this film on an entirely different level of perception; it is less about a visceral reaction from the audience than a intellectual involvement. Morelli gets a lot out of his cast as should be the case. For the most part many of the actors have played their roles in the series and in some cases the first film. He lets them interpret their characters giving the film an organic, well lived in feel that is unusual especially for a film with virtually no female influences.

Acerola (Douglas Silva) and his best friend Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha), better know to the subtitles as Ace and Wallace, live in the Dead End Hill favelas on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Both of the young men are seventeen, just about to turn eighteen and become legal adults. Ace is already married to Chris (Camila Monteiro) and the have a son together. Like many such marriages theirs is already ion trouble. Ace regrets being tied down at such a young age and his wife demands that he be there for her and their son. Wallace has never known his father. He travels around town on his little scooter becoming increasingly obsessed with finding him and connecting on some level or at least gaining some understanding as to why he left. His cousin Nefasto, called Fasto (Eduardo 'BR' Piranha) is the captain of the local drug lord Madrugadão, also known as Midnight (Jonathan Haagensen). Midnight is a wealthy and powerful man and demands strict obedience from his henchmen. When Fasto forms his won crew and challenges Midnight the boss naturally feels betrayed and seeks to reclaim what is his. This results is an all out gang war struggling for the lucrative drug trade. Wallace finally finds his father, Heraldo (Rodrigo dos Santos), who has been in prison for 15 years of a 20 year sentence for murder and has now skipped parole. He is living under the radar of the authorities. Both Ace and Wallace are pulled into more drama than they can handle.

The DVD of this film is available through Miramax which is now part of the Weinstein Company family. They are well known for bringing foreign films to the States and this is one of the better examples of their catalog. It is a gripping film that will certain initiate some discussion after watching it.

Posted 06/22/08

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