Film-Forward Review: CITY OF MEN

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Darlan Cunha as Wallace & Douglas Silva as Acerola
Photo: Vantoen Pereira Jr./Miramax Films

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Directed by Paulo Morelli
Produced by Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Bel Berlinck, Fernando Meirelles & Paulo Morelli
Written by Elena Soárez, story by Paulo Morelli and Elena Soárez.
Director of Photography, Adriano Goldman
Edited by Daniel Rezende
Music by Antonio Pinto
Released by Miramax Films.
Language: Portuguese with English subtitles.
Brazil. 110 min. Rated R
With: Darlan Cunha, Douglas Silva, Jonathan Haagensen, Eduardo BR Piranha & Camila Monteiro

City of Men culminates the outstanding Brazilian television series of the same name, directed by Paulo Morelli, who took over the series at the end of its second season. Flashbacks introduce Douglas Silva’s Acerola and Darlan Cunha’s Wallace, bringing the audience up to date and welcoming newcomers. They are seen arm-in-arm when they were 10, then through their four years as inseparable friends navigating adolescence and the dangerous slums of Rio de Janeiro.

Following immediately where the series left off, the two are on the verge of celebrating their miraculous survival to age 18. Acerola is fitfully laden down with child and job responsibilities, while Wallace continues to flirtatiously play the field and pursue entrepreneurial schemes. Both are troubled by what it means to be a man and a father while living on Dead End Hill.

Wallace’s cousin and the neighborhood’s controlling male role model is the mercurial and menacing gang leader Midnight (Jonathan Haagensen), who dominates from his armed roof top aerie. The summer heat pushes him and his minions down to the beach for the first time in two years – the cops clear a path for their stately procession. Midnight commands who gets to cool off in the waves and who has to stand watch, setting off a deadly power struggle. The escalating violence, filmed in an up-and-down hillside rush with hand-held cameras, forces Acerola and Wallace to mature within the entanglements of romance, loyalty, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The film continues the series’ unique formula of mixing fun, fantasy, fear, and frankness. Adolescent hijinks intersect with gun-toting children and peaceful families eking out their daily lives while dodging ricocheting bullets. Several plot points build on story lines from the TV episodes, particularly Wallace’s dogged search for the father he never knew, ostensibly in order to complete registration for his adult identity card. He learns to slyly manipulate people with a twinkle in his eye.

The English subtitles are clearly legible in yellow, but are much too Anglicized, sanitizing the film of its Brazilian flavor – disconcerting for those familiar with the TV series. While Wallace is a strict translation of Uólace, he’s still called Laranjinha in the film, and the name of gang leader Madrugadão was not originally translated as Midnight. Each separate craggy, crowded neighborhood is here identified as a “hill,” but the indigenous term favela has become well known internationally, particularly through the dramatic efforts of City of God’s Fernando Meirelles, who produced the series, this film, and its distaff counterpart Antônia.

Although not at the masterpiece level of City of God, it is a must for anyone who has seen the TV series. Even as these two young men walk off to face adulthood together, now arm in arm with Acerola’s toddler son, a group of very talented writers, directors, and actors have grown with them. Meirelles has provided an international platform to movingly tell with passion and panache the stories of human hope and resilience amidst tragic crime and poverty. Nora Lee Mandel
February 29, 2008



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