O Juiz Adam Arseneau é um homem, bebê!
Like The Wonder Years set in a Brazilian slum.
A television miniseries spinoff of Fernando Meirelles's critically acclaimed feature film City of God, City of Men tells the tale of two youths struggling into adolescence in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro. It is a rare and unique television experience, but fans of the film may have to do some adjusting.
Facts of the Case
Life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro can be a complicated affair. In one of the most volatile, traumatic, crime-ridden, and violent slums in the world, it is hard to grow up as a child and still retain that youthful innocence. For Acerola (Douglas Silva, City of God) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha, City of God), two 13-year-old friends growing up together, it is hard enough to stay alive some days, let alone make it to class on time, scrape together a living, or get with all the pretty girls.
City of Men: The Complete Series contains all 19 episodes from four seasons, spread over three discs:
For every action, there is a reaction equal and opposite, so from City of God emerges City of Men, a surprisingly wholesome and heartwarming show about friendship, maturity, and life in the Brazilian slums that is equal in dignity and measure to its cinematic brother, but totally opposite in tone. Technically speaking, City of Men is a spinoff, since it contains no reoccurring characters from the film (although a few actors return to play different roles).
Unlike City of God, which was immersed in guns, drugs, and the violence of the favelas, City of Men is an introspective show, fully preoccupied with the teen anxieties of two young men whose interests are universal across the world: school, music, grades, girls, parents, money, girls, and more girls. Drugs, guns, and criminals are a fact of life, but they are no more remarkable to the young men and women of the favelas than the mailman in our neighborhoods. Rather than focusing only on the shocking violence and inhumane living conditions, the miniseries explores the deep-rooted social issues and class struggles of Rio de Janeiro that precipitate such a reality for many Brazilians. City of Men is a surprisingly profound and heartwarming show, one that just happens to be set in the most unlikely of locales. It is a strange place for such normality to flourish, but such is its brilliance. This contrast between the real and the surreal creates a powerful environment to frame what might have otherwise been a fairly mundane teen drama.
Compared to the film City of God, the tone of City of Men is lighter, more optimistic, and jubilant in the face of adversity and reality, matching the youthful attitudes of its protagonists. As the show progresses through the seasons shot over three years, the characters noticeably age; Acerola and Laranjinha transform from 13-year-old children into 17-year-old adolescents in front of our eyes. Thus, where the show begins varies slightly from where City of Men ultimately ends. At 17, Acerola and Laranjinha see the world through completely different eyes than as 13-year-olds. Just like real life, their youth is mix of awkwardness and amusement, of joy and tears. As the characters age, so do their hopes, dreams, ambitions, and anxieties—not to mention the problems they face.
Adapting the material to television allows City of Men to expand into areas of the city not covered in City of God. One particular exploration I enjoyed was the odd social tension between children of the slums interacting with more well-to-do privileged kids, both regarding one another with a mix of loathing and fear. They represent opposite sides of a class system, but both kids want something more from the world than the world is prepared to hand over. How they go about this task drives most of the plot development. Luckily, most of the episodes of City of Men are self-contained stories, making the show extremely easy to throw into the DVD player and enjoy from any point.
With no police foolish enough to step foot in the slums, the drug soldiers rule the streets. Growing up in a world deprived of all things material, children soon go crazy with the small tastes of power that the criminal life gives them. Excited by the ego trip, they embrace the lifestyle, but it is a short-lived occupation, as most soldiers have a life expectancy of only 25 years. Sadly, little else exists in the way of opportunity for such boys. This is an especially hostile environment to set a teen drama in! One scene may involve a drug deal gone bad and dead bodies scattered in the alleys, while the next involves a happy-go-lucky soccer game between children not two feet away. This dichotomy between extremes keeps the series extremely energized and electric, even when dealing with tender, whimsical, self-indulgent subjects usually best left to shows like The Wonder Years or My So-Called Life.
Of course, Kevin Arnold never shot a guy to death over a drug deal, and Angela Chase never got knocked up by the age of 14 without knowing who the father was. Maybe I missed that episode. Despite being set in the most unlikely of locations, it is the show's surprising wholesomeness, tenderness, and attention to the genuine anxieties of youth that make City of Men such a fascinating and compelling show.
There is nothing even remotely like City of Men on television in North America today. The show swings from heartbreaking tragedy to joyful exuberance so fast that it is hard to get a sense of what life must be like in the ghetto. As animated and outrageous as these characters appear to North American eyes, they are only children after all; they yearn and daydream and play and react the way children do the world over. Of course, most children do not get robbed repeatedly and have guns thrust in their face on the way to school, or routinely kill each other over small scuffles. This odd flux between manhood and immaturity is the realm where City of Men resides, and it is both compelling and distressing to see the lives of Acerola and Laranjinha play out into manhood.
Presented in its native full-screen aspect ratio, City of Men has excellent production values and translates to DVD quite impressively. Lines are clean, black levels are solid, color contract is pleasing, and no print damage or debris is noticeable. Some grain is evident during low-light shots, but this is not distracting, and only complements the stylish saturated color palates, quick edits, and energetic hand-held cinematography. The only downside is the English subtitles, which are burned on. No excuse for that anymore.
Presented in a pleasing 2.0 surround presentation in Portuguese, the discs sound fantastic. Dialogue is clear and audible over the never-ending ambient din of the favelas, scored by an energetic mix of local Brazilian pop, folk, and hip-hop music. The mix is active and lively and translates fantastic to rear channels, with excellent bass response—no need for a 5.1 presentation with a mix this good!
Where the DVD set falls flat is in the supplementary material department—evidently, the department burned to the ground, because there is nary a scrap of material to be found on this set. A shame!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those who admired City of God only for its rough and violent exterior may find City of Men far too tame for their tastes. Despite the surface comparisons, one should not mistake this DVD for City of God: The Television Series. Rather, City of Men is an introspective examination into maturity and masculinity from the perspective of two 13-year-old Brazilian boys living in a slum—extremely good television, but nowhere near as action-packed as the movie.
Myself, I can't imagine why, but some people might find this boring. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
With equal parts heartwarming adolescence, tragic social realism, and comedy, City of Men is as unique and multi-faceted as the favelas that spawned its creation. Fans of City of God will delight in observing as Acerola and Laranjinha make their way through life, suffering the pitfalls and rewards of friendship, loyalty, innocence, and puberty, as long as they can adjust to the slower, introspective change in pace.
A rare televisual gem.
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Studio: Palm Pictures
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