Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Review - City of Men (2007 - Dir. Paulo Morelli

I’ve been craving a good old fashioned grit-fest and wasn’t disappointed by Morelli’s City of Men. There’s Brazilian gangsters with guns, women with guns and children with guns, all blasting each other in a favela based battle for the supremacy of their home area on a hill. The only person without a gun is a children’s football coach and I don’t need to tell you what happens to him. Woven into the mayhem is the a story of friendship, struggle and discovery for the two central characters Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha) that provides the necessary hope and warmth to lift this above usual gritty fair. Don’t get your hopes up however, there’s no-one in underpants shooting machine guns, a complete absence of prostitution and a mysterious lack of the ubiquitous handheld gritty camera work.

Cut through all that gritty shooting and this is a lovely story. The tale of two boys in Rio de Janero as they graduate from boys to men is both warming and disturbing as they unlock the secrets of their past, against the background of poverty, deprivation and flying bullets. In a way they circumvent the violence, the drug gangs and the intimidation and live their lives in a separate bubble where hope, humour and love triumph over the general sense of nastiness. Both boys put in determined and believable acting shifts and are always natural, likeable and in the end we really care about their fates.

All the other characters may or may not be ‘actors’ as is often the norm in South American grit-drama, but all are enthralling and never break the veil of reality. The city is almost a character in its own right and from the sunshine of the beach to the ramshackle homes in the favela, the director lovingly depicts and portrays both its visual beauty and its inherent issues with equal measures of sensitivity and shock factor. It’s an intelligent piece of film making that allows us to understand the actions of the characters even if we can’t empathise with them.

All in all, it’s a great film, and as with all the best gritty films it tempers all that unsavouriness with lashings of hope. It’s a recipe for a satisfying viewing experience for grit-fans across the globe. It’s nowhere near as good as City of God, but it’s head and shoulders above the likes of Gomorrah. Add some brutal Elite Squad style cops, a seedy nightclub lavatory scene and Gael Garcia Bernal in a Zorro mask and you’d be looking at a 10/10, but as it stands, it’s a…

If you like this you could also try:
City of God, Gomorrah.

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