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‘City of Men' Explores Slums of Brazil

9 Sep, 2006 By: Brendan Howard

"City of Men"

For director Fernando Mereilles, the story of the crime-ridden favelas (neighborhoods) of Rio de Janeiro was only one-third done in his Oscar-nominated film City of God.

There remains another feature film and his executive-produced Sept. 19 TV DVD release “City of Men” (three-DVD set $32.99) from Palm Pictures.

“City of God was period and takes place in the late 1970s,” Mereilles explained. “‘City of Men' is contemporary. City of God was talking about slums as the background. ‘City of Men' is about living in the slum, and the background is drug dealers.”

The cast connection is direct. Before filming City of God, Mereilles said he started an acting workshop with 200 boys in the poor part of town. “City of Men's” two main characters — Laranjinha and Acerola — are played by amateurs from the workshop.

“Two years ago, both of them were still living in the slums,” he said. “They didn't want to move, but last year they did. They still go to the slums because it's part of their life.”

Many of the other boys appeared in City of God and the short film that turned into the first episode of “City of Men” after it was a hit on Brazilian TV. In the show's 19 episodes from four seasons (2002-05) — which aired recently on the Sundance Channel — the two best friends navigate neighborhoods in one of Rio de Janeiro's poorest slums, a ramshackle town riding up the side of a mountain. They live with little money and among fights between gun-toting drug dealers and gangs.

The setup also grew out of early work on City of God, according to Mereilles.

“We came up with a story for a rehearsal during City of God,” he said. “We'd do a lot of improvisations, and one day we improv'd two kids getting involved with drug dealers, just by chance, just to make some money. Then they have a big problem on their hands.”

Mereilles said the result isn't as dark as City of God.

“People who live outside, when we go there [to the slums] we're very shocked,” he said. “We know it's very violent. They [residents] don't see it the same way. A slum is a very happy and funny place to go. There are a lot of people who don't work; they just hang around and listen to music. It's a very weird thing, everybody's relaxed.”

Mereilles said the story of the boys continues in the feature film City of Men, which is being directed by another filmmaker in Sao Paolo. He expects the film to hit Brazil in January 2007 and the rest of the world thereafter.

“We used parts of the series in the feature,” he said. “In the series and now the feature, you'll see the boys growing up. They're the actual actors growing.”

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