City of Men Review

With the whirlwind success of City of God, it was only a matter of time before, in true American fashion, a spin-off or a sequel would see the light of day. Strangely enough we're going to be treated to both - a cinematic follow-up and the present TV series, City of Men (Cidade dos Homens) starting on BBC4 on Tuesday and already available on DVD.

Leaving behind the 1970s for the little improved squalor of the 2000s, City of Men follows the lives of Acerola (Douglas Silva - the young Lil' Dice in City of God) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha) over a few years and the marking events of their growing up. Their first loves, the crazy schemes Acerola devises, Laranjinha's heartthrob status and their constant dodging of the drug gangs all find their way into the two first seasons of the series. Stylistically, the series continues in the same vein as the film - it's fast, clever and constantly inventive: the narration dives into ellipses, the editing is rapid and rough, characters imagination comes to life through on-screen animations or voice-overs: it's all a far cry from your average soap. The subject matter has changed somewhat - the producers seem to have deliberately focused on the more everyday aspects of the favelas - whereas the film looked almost exclusively at drug violence, this is not the sole focus of the series. It remains central in a few plots and is a constant presence in the favela but there seems to have been a conscious effort to delve on the positive aspects of living there such as the pleasures of kite-flying, clubbing and futébol. That's not to say they have sanitised the reality of life there - the episodes that don't feature the gangs are just as hard hitting about the reality of life in Brazil be it the social divide between the poor and the middle class (Uólace and João Victor, It has to be now) or the derelict state of Brazil's penitentiary system (The two on their way to Brasilia).

The quality of each half-hour episode varies slightly but generally all are exceptionally good and enthralling. The wild cinematography that made the film such a visceral experience is also present here - handhelds, 8mm, steadicam and even some hi-tech bullet effects all make their mark on each episode without distracting us from the storytelling. It's strange to see a spin-off work so successfully from the word go but considering the talentful team behind City of God, it really shouldn't come as a surprise. Far from being a cashing-in exercise, the series would have worked equally well without the trailblazing effect of the film - TV rarely gets any better than this so whatever you do, don't let this one pass you by.

The episodes featured on the double DVD set are as follows:

Series 1:
The emperor´s crown
The man´s brother-in-law
The post
Uólace and João Victor

Series 2:
The two on their way to Brasilia
It has to be now
The ordinaries
Hot spot

The image:
The image is globally good when you take into account the various types of film used. The colour palette is deliberately toned down or emphasised for different scenes. It may look a little rough but this is what it's supposed to look like. There was some occurrences of occasional print damage as well as pieces of fluff getting into the way of objective. I'm not sure how much of that was voluntary either but it seldom distracts from the film. The layer change on the first disc is however poorly placed in the middle of an episode - it seems rather strange they were not able to place it somewhere else. Globally however, the image quality is as good as I would have expected and really shows no major flaws.

The subtitles:
Annoyingly, these have been burnt-into the image. They are not that easy to read at times against light backgrounds (despite being bordered with black). They do go so far as to subtitle most of the songs but often fail to subtitle some of the on-screen captions. I had to use BabelFish to find out what they meant.

The sound:
The original Portuguese stereo makes good use of the full stereo spectrum. The music sounds particularly good on it.

Nothing at all apart for some trailers for other Optimum releases. There is one episode that was made before City of God called Golden Gate which is seen by Katia Lund as part of City of Men so it should have been included here. A shame they didn't manage to secure it for this release.

For more than fours hours worth of film, this set is good value though a few extras would have been nice. The image and the sound are good and the content is top notch.

9 out of 10
8 out of 10
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out of 10

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