Cidade dos Homens (City of Men)

CITY OF MEN

 

It isn’t only America that jumps on any new hot property and attempts to mimic and copy it hoping to repeat success. “Cidade dos Homens”  (2007 aka City of Men) takes us on a similar journeyto that of another  “City” tale a few years earlier. “City of God” was a smashing international success, and surely that helped this story get told.

“Cidade dos Homens” is both similar and different; bigger and less epic than the previous film.  Paolo Morelli’s tale follows two teenagers:  Arcerola and Laranjinha.  One is eighteen, the other is a few weeks away from turning so.  The elder’s primary concern is how his baby (he impregnated his wife the first time they made love) is cramping his lifestyle.  The younger wants to have a father’s name to put on the ID card he’ll  get when he turns of age.  The younger’s cousin is the head of the gang that rules the hill, and a rift between him and two of his members starts a gang war that shatters these two young boys lives and places them on different sides of a turf war.

But where as “City of God” was a flashy Scorsese-style gang show, the gang rivalry is not a part of our two leads lives, and therefore the film is less style; more grit; less façade to place in front of the reality.  This is what really held my interest.  The gangs, deaths, gun fights…they all happen.  It is just a part of life here.  It is in the background.  There is one profound scene, shot completely in a wide shot, where the two have a calm discussion about life and their plans. In the background we hear gunfire, and even see some rounds being expelled.  And no, this isn’t some Post Tarantino play at being cool where shit blows up but our leads are too hip to care.  This is just nothing new for them.  If it happens everyday, eventually the lack of gunfire may ring scarier.  They have come to accept their lives.  Until…

And this is where the film settles its loose ends a bit too nicely.  The film had me interested while I was witnessing these characters live lives seemingly unrelated to the gang stuff that was surrounding them.  This isn’t what we expect.  Shouldn’t  they both join gangs and one will become ruthless, while the other remains angelic and holds true to his principles before some great climax that will result in the living lead leaving behind his past?  And it is when the film begins to toddle towards that that it begins to feel a bit stretched; and a bit like we’ve been here before.

One of the characters does change a bit.  And, for me, it is too quick and the reasoning not quite perfect.  But that is not to say it is all wrong.  A bit more character development could perhaps have fleshed out the transition in the character, allowing it to be a truly horrifying arc; and one that would be much more profound when he discovers what actually matters by looking  in the crying eyes of a child.

If you haven’t seen “City of God,” I have to say, that is where your time is best invested.  But, if you have, you could do worse than this title.  At the very least there is something about acid washed film stock and Brazilian beaches and the way Brazilian backs, naked to the sun and drying from the waters, expose on film.  Even that is beautiful.  Now if they could only fall in love with that, and put down the weapons.

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