Of vice and men This sort-of sequel to misses its target, writes
CITY OF MEN/ CIDADE DES HOMENS Directed by Paulo Morelli. Starring Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Rodrigo dos Santos, Camila Monteiro, Naima Silva 15A cert, limited release, 106 min City of God Donald Clarke
WHAT MIGHT we have made of this odd film if we had never seen Fernando Meirelles’s justifiably lauded City of God? It’s unlikely Paulo Morelli’s picture, not quite a sequel to the original, would have been hailed as a classic, but the vivid depictions of the Brazilian favelas and the passion for the downtrodden would surely have secured it a significant following. As it stands, City of Men, a spin-off from a television series produced by Meirelles, ends up looking rather pallid and underpowered when set beside its distinguished forerunner. Imagine being handed a plate of Twiglets after dining on rare steak.
Skating past several characters from City of God, the slightly muddled plot follows the coming of age of two young men from a violent corner of Rio de Janeiro’s shantytown. Ace (Douglas Silva) is dealing with his girlfriend’s decision to take a job in Sao Paulo so that she can care for the couple’s young child. Wallace (Darlan Cunha), his best buddy, has decided to track down the father who abandoned him at birth. While the two young men are battling with their personal crises, a gang war is brewing amid the locale’s vertiginous streets and walkways.
Morelli, using an agitated camera and unconventional editing, repeats Meirelles’s trick of discovering blotchy beauty in Rio’s most deprived quarters. The young actors are uniformly excellent, and the action sequences crackle with percussive menace. But, whereas City of God had the quality of an epic to it, the new film, featuring fewer characters and smaller stories, feels more like a soap opera interrupted by occasional outbursts of gunfire. Terrible things happen in the film, but Morelli appears to have traded in Meirelles’s bracing fatalism for a more conventional – if not exactly cosy – belief in the circularity of stories and lives. We are left with an honourable, entertaining film that, nonetheless, feels somewhat surplus to requirements.
View to a kill: City of Men captures the blotchy beauty of Rio’s favelas