Best buddies Acerola and Laranjinha, about to turn 18, discover things about their missing fathers' pasts which will shatter their solid friendship, in the middle of a war between rival drug gangs from Rio's favelas.
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In the slum in Morro da Sinuca, a couple of days before turning eighteen year-old, Laranjinha tells his best friend and also orphan Acerola that he misses his unknown father. Acerola decides to help his needy friend to find his father and they discover that he is in prison convicted for killing a man during a robbery and near to be released on parole. Meanwhile, Acerola's wife and babysitter Cris is invited to work in São Paulo and she sees the chance to raise money to buy a house of her own; she tells Acerola that he must take care of their son Clayton alone for one year. When the owner of the hill and Laranjinha's cousin Madrugadão is betrayed by his right-hand Nefasto, he is expelled from the slum and Laranjinha and Acerola have also to leave the hill. While Madrugadão plots a plan to invade and recover the hill with the support of the gang of the drug lord from Morro do Careca, Acerola and Laranjinha unravel the past of their fathers. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This sepia-sunbleached feature derives from, and features the same main characters as, the eponymous 2002-2005 Brazilian TV series about (mostly) boys in the "favela" hill ghettos above Rio for which Morelli did some of the writing and directing. The series, starring Darlan Cunha as Laranjinha (Wallace) and Douglas Silva as Acerola (Ace) --growing up from year to year and episode to episode--sort of grew out of the Fernando Meirelles/Kátia Lund film, 'City of God,' which in turn was based on Paulo Lins' tumultuous and partly autobiographical novel about three decades in the slums and the involvement of youth as dealers, assassins, and victims. Actually the Ace/Wallace characters as young teenagers, always played by Silva and Cunha, predate 'City of God' by two years; they appeared in a short film called 'Palace II' in 2000. The history of these films and stories is as intricate as the world they depict. Douglas Silva was the prepubescent tough in 'City of God' known by he moniker Dadinho--Lil' Dice.
'City of Men' is warmer and more intimate than the original film. 'City of God' has been both admired for its virtuosity--it's full of tours de force of visual violence and equally brilliant feats of rapid storytelling--and condemned as reveling too much in blood and gore, making teenage killers who terrorize neighborhoods into little glamor boys. That's quite true. It's unfortunately also true that in the ghettos of Rio as of other places such as the USA, young gun-toting drug dealers are the sexy local pop stars. Maybe the earlier film fails to take a sufficiently clear moral stand, or too much reflects the viewpoints of the young favela males it depicts. Nonetheless it's exhilarating film-making. Paradoxically, it also has a more positive arc than 'City of Men,' because its hero works his way out of the slums and into mainstream Rio de Janeiro to become a photojournalist. In 'City of Men,' nothing like that happens. Instead, there is a difficult reconciliation between the two boys, on the brink of eighteen, despite a stunning revelation about their lost fathers, and one of the fathers comes back into the picture and, reluctantly at first, chooses to be a warm presence in the life of his son. Both of the boys endure moments of terrible loneliness and isolation, which reveal how isolating the world of shifting and dangerous loyalties and hills fought for and lost is for a boy who in the first place lacks parents. But the focus is on the reconciliations.
In the TV series, the boys are in school. They face difficulties even showing up, and only one of them, Ace (Silva) really hits the books (he's also fascinated by guns of all kinds). Laranjinha is closer to turning into a young hood.
Thugh the new movie 'City of Men' is less specific than the TV series (judging by the DVD collections of episodes that I've seen) and suffers a bit by comparison with either it or 'City of God,' the vibrancy of the life on offer in all these films is still unmistakable, as well as the attractiveness of the young actors, the warmth of the world evoked--and vernacular swiftness that of the filming and editing, which somehow is both relaxing and unnerving.
Wallace/Laranjinha is trying to find out who his real father is; he doesn't want "unknown" to be on the place for "father" on his papers. Acerola knows his father is dead, and he wants to know what happened. He's faced with the local problem from the other side. His wife Cris (Camila Monteiro) keeps leaving their toddler son Clayton (Vinicius Oliveira) with him to take care of. He doesn't want to accept the responsibility. But if he reneges on it, he'll leave Clayton in the same place he and Wallace are in. Ace abandons Clayton on the beach early on when Madrugadão (Midnight, Jonathan Haagensen), the gang leader of the hill where they live, risks assassination to descend on a super-hot day for a swim in the ocean. He also turns some flashy cartwheels and shows off his spectacular pecs. Madrugadão, like Wallace (i.e. Darlan Cunha), is handsome and charismatic. Ace is so childish he forgets his own son; but he rushes back and finds him. And when Cris gets a job in the wealthier city of São Paulo, Ace, with great difficulty, forces himself to take on the responsibility of raising Clayton.
Wallace (perhaps a bit too easily) finds his father, a bearded man named Heraldo (Rodrigo dos Santos), who has just gotten out of prison after serving fifteen years of a twenty-year sentence--for murder. Heraldo's beard cannot conceal the fact that he is not very mature. He hasn't shouldered the responsibilities of being a man. But he also carries the weight of suffering and gratitude.
When rival gang leader Fasto (Eduardo "BR" Piranha) takes over Midnight's territory on Dead End Hill, a new gang war breaks out right in the middle of Ace and Wallace's journey of self-discovery.
'City of Men' is a more tender, individual and grownup story than 'City of God'; from what I've seen of the TV series it grows out of, it's less specific and less witty. It works as a kind of antidote to the amorality one feels in 'City of God,' and its warmth is touching. Nor is it visually ineffective, or its sense of the milieu less rich--except. Except that it quite lacks the momentum and adrenaline-rush brilliance of 'City of God's' virtuoso film-making and editing, or the rich range of minor characters the latter has. It is a little bit meandering, and its fast jump-cut slides from scene to scene sometimes seem out of place. As the AV Club reviewer says, much has been gained in this new film, but much has been lost as well. Still 'City of Men' is well worth watching.
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