City of Men
(Cidade dos Homens)
Studio: Miramax Films
US Rating: Rated R For Violent Content, Language and Some Sexuality
Film Length: 106 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1:85.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
Subtitles: Optional English, French and Spanish
The Film - out of
“I don’t learn, I invent…”
2002’s City of God is one of the very best films from the last twenty years. It was uncompromising, raw, unflinching and devastating in its power and quickly drew much deserved comparisons of its director to the craftsmanship of Martin Scorsese. Directed by Fernando Meirelles, it immersed us is the lives of young boys living in one of the most murderous cities on earth, the dusty slums of disrepair in Rio de Janiero.
While not a sequel, City of Men is a thematic follow-up to the extraordinary City of God, and comes to us from that film’s producers. The story centers on two young boys Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Lanaranjinha (Darlan Cunha), friends for so long that they treat each other as brothers. As they approach their 18th birthday, having grown up without fathers raises in them questions of longing, loss and a listlessness that, though no different from any other day it would seem, is more pronounced. Particularly as getting a driver’s license requires the fathers name be added and without knowing who their fathers are, the license would read 'Father Unknown' - a point of personal shame.
They both live on ‘the hill’, a congested hillside with organically grown homes stacked upon one another, the familiar contours of a Shanty town. The hill is rules by a gang; men and boys with weapons as toys and females as after thoughts attached to them. Madrugadão (Jonathan Haagensen) is the leader of this gang, a young man who has not left the top of the hill, where his home feels like a castle among poor villagers, for several years, fearing attack from rival gang members. His youthful status is belied by heavy drawn eyes but emboldened by rampant ego and the spoils of power.
The gang second in command, Nefasto (Eduardo 'BR' Piranha) is tired of his servant-like existence to Madrugadão, and so joins a rival gang with plans to dethrone his old leader by taking the hill and ruling that part of town himself. Caught in the middle of the mayhem and bloodshed that is born of that power struggle are the Acerola, Lanaranjinha and their associated family members. They themselves are caught in some inner turmoil as they track down Laranjinha's father, soon finding him and working through the emotional complications that his discovery brings. The violence around them and the effects of finding Lanaranjinha’s father test their friendship and threaten their lives. A difficult life but not an uncommon one.
City of Men accomplishes the same dual story resonance; two friends dealing with emotional tumult set inside the world of a drug-gang ruled patriarchal structure without loving patriarchs. It is a film set in the ravished landscape of fatherless children, yearning to know who their fathers are, and in many ways know who they themselves are – all in contrast with the rule of men who do so with arrogance, violence and well armed petulance. The flippancy of violence and delicate hold on chaos is fascinating and saddening. Watching the commuting of power, I was reminded of an old saying recently echoed in a song on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album:
“You may be a big fish, in a little pond,
doesn’t mean you’ve won,
‘cause along may come…
a bigger one.”
A simple sentiment explored superbly in City of God and again played out on screen with awful consequences.
The true cinematic victory here is the story of lives touched and bruised embedded in a city awash with a viral lawlessness. Again, the visuals are rich with life ruled by the threat of death. The cinematography is vivid, rich and spontaneous. The director and cinematographer capture the city with both love and anguish – shots are ruled by peaceful still or abundant fluidity of movement as lives meander, mingle and miss each other almost perpetually in the crowded city. The use of handheld camera creates an effective sense of the bustle of life and the vulnerability of dangerous circumstances. But the undeniable strength, staunch barbarism and disregard for morality and order are mere echoes of former glory. Where City of God delivered a gut-wrenching abundance of heart-racing tension and astonishing muscle, City of Men merely provides momentary pauses of dramatic surprise.
This film is important and very well acted, filmed and produced, but it lacks the enormous impact of its predecessor. Interestingly, after City of God wowed the world, its themes and settings were explored that same year in the City of Men television show in Brazil. The series is said to have been based on a short film from 2000 called Pallace II, and has many of the characters/actors used in the 2007 film of the same name. Who inspired who is now a good question.
The film was shot in 1.85:1, and is presented that way here on DVD. The color palette is bathed in sandy yellows, burning oranges and browns at the beige end of the spectrum. They appear here with wonderful clarity. The film grain is faithfully preserved with no edge enhancements, digital noise or other irritating distractions. The film’s layers of colors, from the bright to the grays and blacks are rich and solid. This is a fine presentation of a very good film.
The sound design for this film is exemplary and the audio presents that sound design with care and consideration. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio option (in the original Portuguese language with English subtitles for me) is alive with booms, traffic growls and the ambience of the constant flow of lives through the streets. The audio is crystal clear, sharp and superb with effective surrounds echoing gunshots and disarming the viewer at times with Antonia Pinto’s wonderful score.
Building A City of Men - (15:13) – This special feature, presented 1.85:1 but not enhanced for widescreen televisions, is good. The cast and crew discuss the creation of the film and the reality of the harsh world the characters inhabit. The direction, editing, sound design, location shoots and music are discussed, albeit briefly.
Sneak Peaks Sneak peaks for Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Smart People, LOST: The Complete Fourth Season, Blindness, Step Up 2 The Streets and a promo for Miramax films.
While City of Men does not manage to scrape the dramatic skies or tower as City of God did (a strong Five star film), comparisons are inevitable and a little unfair. This is thematically the same and takes visual and visceral cues from the 2002 Brazilian masterpiece, but it has a somewhat different visual flair and camera movements that are more traditional and more sweeping at times. But like it’s cinematic brother, the film is first and foremost about friendship bonds and the lawlessness that pervades the poorer neighborhoods, tearing into communities. The lives onscreen remain vivid and fascinating, bolstered by a bevy of unique performances and an engaging and natural script. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman is a magnificent talent and his keen eye captured the city and slums with aches and awe. And, in the end, dramatic aches and awe are what City of Men almost achieves.