REVIEW: DVD Release: City Of Men

Film: City Of Men
Release date: 23rd February 2009
Certificate: 15
Running time: 102 mins
Director: Paulo Morelli
Starring: Darlan Cunha, Douglas Silva, Rodrigo Dos Santos, Camila Monteiro, Jonathan Haagensen
Genre: Crime/Drama
Studio: Miramax
Format: DVD
Country: Brazil

Three friendships, three betrayals, three tales to tell… Paulo Morelli delivers his take on the lives of the residents of Dead End Hill, where veiled truths are uncovered causing friends to become foes, lives to be lost and boys to become men. Amid a plot overflowing with passion and the prominence of personal growth, pardon and partnership; City Of Men conveys juxtapositions of the grim and the grand outcomes for treachery or disobedience of the unwritten rules of Rio de Janeiro.

Reminiscent of City Of God, City Of Men illustrates life in the favelas/slums of Rio de Janeiro, yet this time the plot is assembled around not just the strive for endurance and victory, but for a break in tradition.

We join best friends, Laranjinha and Acerola, two teenagers who, on the brink of turning eighteen, have never had any paternal influence and discuss how this has affected them. It appears from the beginning that Laranjinha is more affected by his absent father than his comrade Acerola, who at the tender age of 17 entered paternity himself, and so Acerola sets out to track down his best bud’s father in time for the details to be on his ID when he reaches 18.

However, when Acerola does locate Laranjinha’s father, Heraldo, they soon ascertain that not only is he an ex-con but he has no more interest in being a father to Laranjinha now than he did eighteen years ago, instantly dismissing any chance at a newly formed association with his son. Despite this, a persistent Acerola is spurred on by his own knowledge and experiences of life without a father figure, and eventually persuades Heraldo to give his son a chance in his life…

Laranjinha and his father bond greatly and there appears to be genuine hope for the two at becoming the father and son they should always have been. That is until Heraldo refuses to let the newly homeless Acerola stay the night whilst giving his son the choice of staying with him or retreating to the streets with his pal, and a confused and besotted Laranjinha chooses to stay at home with his father, risking everything with his should-be paramount companion.

Alongside the camaraderie of the two young men, we are also introduced to that of Madrugadao and his subordinate Nefasto - an alliance which almost instantaneously is under pressure and in effect turns sour; provoking a fresh warfare - the fight for tenure of aptly named Dead End Hill.

The young men’s relationship fluctuates from sturdy to fragile as the facts about each others’ fathers is exposed, and they get separated and become enemies in their home town war. Yet the central issue to the plot is this: can such a liaison withstand the tests of time and be rectified after hidden realities have been uncovered changing everything they once knew and believed in?

Highly involved with the father’s role, Paulo Morelli stresses the effects of absent fathers, both good and bad, but most importantly strives to portray the message that a father is not so much vital, but definitely imperative. We see this exemplified beautifully during the end scene with Acerola and his son Clayton, as he sets an example in everyday tasks like crossing the road safely.

Featuring similar cinematography to City Of God, with high angle sweeping shots and impacting customary Brazilian music accompanying the action, City Of Men hits home the sincerity of the events on screen, urging one to feel a part of the highs and the lows of the character’s experience. The beach scenes in particular are impressive; wherein the sun kissed skin of the locals is breathtaking, creating a want amongst the viewers’ thoughts to be there enjoying the dancing rays.

This leads to the main and well deserved praise, which must go towards the actors, some of whom also starred in City Of God and were simply residents of Rio de Janeiro prior to the two films. The natural wit, grace and ability to convince airing from each and every character is hugely evident, a product for satisfying viewing and scrutiny, where emotions are, at times, elevated, and at others dragged down, reaching a dramatic climax where a gratifying sense of catharsis is achieved.

The only negative: it is hard not to compare the film to the classic City Of God, and in doing so you find faults which otherwise wouldn’t have registered. Firstly, the introductory scene of City Of God has the ability to astound and intrigue instantaneously whereas City Of Men, notwithstanding a good opening scene, and one that attracts also, is one which doesn’t blow the viewer’s mind to the same influencing extent. Throughout City Of Men and City Of God, we get to grips with the personalities of each character wanting them to thrive, we feel a part of their lives through the great shooting and connection-provoking storylines, but there is an all more powerful a correlation felt to the characters in City Of God - perhaps due to the audience proceeding through their voyage from boys to ‘men’? In addition, the impact the film has as a whole on the viewer stands to prove that City Of God is a remarkably hard hitting film.

The appropriate comedy facet alongside convincing and quick witted one-liners (“Hot my ass, a gangster never feels the heat”) helps push the boundaries for Morelli here, although again not as effective as in City Of God, but still it alleviates the deadly mood and relaxes the viewer before the next blow. This is much needed, with action packed gun possession and ultimate murder on Dead End Hill where nothing is off limits when possession is at stake.

With the accent upon survival of the fittest, and the urge to “retrieve what is rightfully yours,” salvage is a key motive for the characters and factor for the entire stratagem within City Of Men. In a rousing story screened with raw sensation using a fatherless, foolish and foreboding cast, we get to view a beautiful work of art, which is actually fast, fresh, fearless and forward thinking. VMF

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