“City of Men” is a movie that accepts pain as a fact of life. In fact, the pain in this movie is so big that it manifests itself in all kinds of ways: There’s the pain of being a father, the pain of losing one, the pain of getting old, the pain of restless youth. Like the films of Ingmar Bergman, it lives in a closed system where darkness is inescapable.
There’s something else, though. The only thing greater than the misery it offers is the courage it inspires. “City of Men” is all about characters in a Brazilian slum who personify courage, at least in the sense that Hemingway meant – “grace under pressure.”
This is one of the greatest sequels ever made. The original film, “City of God,” deserved nothing less. On a list of the greatest movies of all time at the Internet Movie Database (www. imdb. com), it’s often in the top 20. It’s number 16 as I write this, placing it above “Vertigo,” “Apocalypse Now” and, if you can believe it, “Citizen Kane.”
Part of the brilliance in both movies is their approach to violence. The first film recorded death, but didn’t celebrate it. Death became a physical fact: When the film screamed, it screamed gunshots. When it wept, it wept blood.
The second film is something else altogether. We’re in the same place, but the characters are new. Wallace and Ace (Darlan Cunha and Douglas Silva) are a couple of 17-year-olds with their whole lives ahead of them. That’s much sadder than it sounds. At their age, some boys might imagine raising a family as time goes by – Ace already has a wife and son named Cris (Camila Monteiro) and Clayton.
Wallace has problems of his own. He’s never seen his father (Rodrigo dos Santos), who abandoned him when he was a kid – Ace wants to help Wallace find him. They may not like what they find.
Meanwhile, a brutal gang war turns the streets into a war zone. In their world, slip-ups aren’t just deadly – they can put a whole series of ghastly events into motion. With all the death and misery they see (and provoke), it makes you think about why they live this way. Are these the lives they chose, or did they merely find themselves trapped in them? Only they know.
There isn’t as much blood in the second film as there was in the original. In “City of God,” blood punctuated almost every major plot point, sometimes coming up in hot, volcanic gulps. “City of Men,” on the other hand, is a little kinder to its characters. There are murders, but not massacres. There are puddles of blood, but not waves of it.
So how does the sequel compare to the movie that inspired it? If it matters, “City of Men” is just as rich and masterful as its predecessor, but look at “City of God” again – there’s a flamboyant urgency to it that’s only hinted at in the sequel. It doesn’t really matter, though. There’s no shame in being nearly perfect.