Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cidade de Homens (City of Men) (2002)

If you are a fan of the Brazilian movie City of God, this series delves in a bit more. In 20 episodes spanning four seasons, you spend time with best friends Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunhan) learning about their daily life and adventures in their favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Favelas house the displaced, poorer people of the city. They are cramped, resemble shanty towns and have explicit rules followed by residents.

When the show begins, both boys are young...perhaps 10 or 11. They deal with not having their dads in their lives or even knowing with certainty who their dads are. They have each other as they navigate the issues of poverty, girls, virginity and their desire to lose it and staying out of the eyes of the drug dealers who serve as the de facto governing body in the favela. You become acquainted with the recurring characters; this helps strings the seasons and plots.

Social issues are presented in smart fashion.

In one of my favorite episodes called Uólace e João Victor, Laranjinha and Acerola confront the realities of being poor juxtaposed with the middle-class life of João Victor. However, similarities also exist and they are presented as well as the same prejudices shared by both the poor and wealthier boys about each other. There's a fantastic montage when Acerola, Laranjinha and their homeless friend are trying to get money to buy a burger when João Victor and his best friend walk by. The film is slowed down and music is added. Acerola and João Victor's friend lock eyes. Silently, they hurl derogatory slurs at each other and after a few minutes, we see they are using the same words. This was brilliant. It speaks to social hierarchies and class tension.

Coming of age is the theme of this series and the directors and cast do a great job here. The plots are creative, funny and poignant. The main characters physically age as the seasons progress and the plot lines work accordingly. Trite solutions are never employed. You connect with the two main characters and are usually rooting for them as they attempt to cut a different swath through the life they didn't choose but have accepted. They always hope for better and you end up doing the same from the sidelines.

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