City of Men wasn’t exactly a big film by any means; though it comes from the producers of City of God, the films share few similarities and are in no way in continuity with one another. Despite it being five years since his Academy Award nomination for City of Men for Best Director, Fernando Meirelles returns to Brazil as a producer to tell this story about two childhood friends who find themselves and their friendship torn apart by life’s hardships. For once, the quotes adorning the box calling it “Exhilarating”, “Powerful” and “Breathtaking” aren’t simply for pushing product.
Set in the gritty streets of Rio de Janeiro, City of Men recounts the lives of teenagers Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha), two men who have grown up alongside of each other and have become as close as brothers. When their lives begin to unravel due to gang warfare taking part in their home town and even between their own families, the boys must come to terms with the difficulties surrounding them and pick the sides that may result in the end of their friendship. All the while the war is going on, Laranjinha sets out to find his long lost father, while Acerola deals with a girlfriend who leaves him alone with their child.
Despite having no idea what this film was about when it showed up, the more I read about it online prior to watching the more I got psyched up for it. I was not disappointed by the final product and before anyone asks—no, the fact it’s a foreign language film didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it in the least. It’s a very potent and strong film that easily transcends the language barrier without issue. I’d never seen the director’s previous film that garnered so many Oscar nominations, but if it’s anything remotely as good as this film I’m going to have to seek it out.
Without a doubt the strongest element of the film were the characters. Seeing how Acerola and Laranjinha grew up and became as close as they did and to eventually have to have a gun in each other’s face really created some incredible drama in the film. On top of the two main characters, every one of the supporting characters had their own level of depth, whether it was gang rivals Midnight and Fasto or the girlfriends of the lead characters, there’s plenty of strong characters in the film to get enveloped in.
Another aspect of the film that impressed me more than anything else was the cinematography in the film. The way shots were set up, the lighting, composition and use of grain in the film were simply remarkable. It was always a treat to see what director Paulo Morelli could come up with at all times, as it was simply breathtaking to see some of the way the sequences were set up and staged.
The tense gang war in the end of the film as well as the continuing friendship of our lead characters all made for an incredibly emotional and tightly wound film that never once slowed during its 106 minute run time. While it hasn’t generated as much positive buzz and noise as City of God did, this film is truly a magnificent work of art that never fails to impress.
Despite how impressed with it I was, I really don’t have much more to say about it. The music in the film was expertly laid out and fed each scene as required and all of the actors did superb jobs in their roles. It’s hard to really dissect the film as it was so enjoyable from start to finish. I’m sure there are elements that buzzed by me that made it less amazing than the crews previous works, but overall City of Men is well worth seeing and comes Recommended. Don’t let the lack of publicity or advertising for the film fool you; it’s as every bit worth your money to check this one out.
City of Men arrives on DVD from Miramax Films and boasts a standard amaray DVD case with no slipcase or anything else really touting the greatness of the film, aside from the aforementioned quotes on the box. An insert detailing the chapters in the film as well as an awkwardly placed advertisement for Smart People on the reverse side; disc art mimics the cover art and menus are simple and easy to navigate.
Video for this release brings the beautiful cinematography of the film to live with great detail and strong definition of sequences. The films intense use of grain isn’t squandered, as this transfer keeps everything as crisp and clean as possible; the accompanying 5.1 Dolby Surround track is also kept on a constant feed, with dialogue front channel focused, but plenty of ambiences throughout the room during the street crowd sequences as well as during the final fire fight. I’m sure the film would look absolutely amazing on Blu-ray, but for now it looks like we’ll just have to settle for a standard DVD release.
Unfortunately for those wanting a healthy amount of extras (i.e., me), we’re given only one scant making-of documentary. “Building a City of Men” (15:13) interviews cast and crew about their feelings about the film as well as their thoughts about the films story and message. This is subtitled as well, but is well worth watching as it gives some good insight into the history behind the film as well as the level of passion that went into making it.
Overall while the DVD release is a bit weak, City of Men is a strong enough film that its light load DVD release comes Recommended. I realize many will be wary to plunk down cash on a film that has made few waves on the critical radar, but it’s these types of films that often please the most. At the very least, add it to your Netflix queue or Blockbuster rental sheet. It’s well worth checking out and I’m sure anyone who can appreciate a film that is both artsy and well-written will be impressed by what City of Men provides.
City of Men is now available on DVD.