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Sun February 17, 2008
City of Men
A labyrinth of life
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"Poverty, to be picturesque, should be rural. Suburban misery is as hideous as it is pitiable." Anthony Trollope
Whew! I'm out of breath following youth gangs in the favela of Rio as they fight for a city hill as if they were in WWII's Pork Chop battle. Machine guns rule; women do not (contrary to the stereotype of matriarchal Latin society). It may not be City of God, the frenetic precursor using two of the same actors, but it has the Battle of Algiers' claustrophobia, which had a better-appointed Kasbah yet the same feeling of people darting around corners to avoid ever present Death.
The two central characters, teenage boys trying to keep their friendship and families in tact while around them chaos rules, veer between themselves and annihilation as they fight off the temptation to carry weapons like their friends yet can't find a way to survive without guns. There is more, however, than just gang warfare because sub-textually director/writer Paulo Morelli identifies a root cause of the dislocations?absentee fathers. (Heck, even the current Spiderwick uses this powerful ingredient.)
Much of the film is dedicated to one of the boys finding his father and the other coming to terms with the murder of his. While the former is adequately explored, the latter could have used much more explanation for the boy's suddenly joining the gang's war. Could it have been the murder of his father? I can't tell you.
The requisite hillside shots of the Rio harbor help the figurative contrast between the rich Brazilian scenery and the squalor of the barrio. Both conditions, of course, help to emphasize the globally accurate distance between the have's and the have not's, a condition the present economic global downturn is exacerbating. City of Men is a city of all men, racing through the labyrinth of life trying to survive, and losing.
City of God is a movie that contradicts its name; City of Men is spot on?God help us.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com