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The Reeler Blog

The Boys From Brazil

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The Reeler visited the Lower East Side last night for a special screening of City of Men, Miramax's forthcoming "companion piece" to Fernando Meirelles' 2002 instant classic City of God. Adapted from the short-lived TV series by director Paolo Morelli, the film is a fairly unremarkable slum bromance with liberal strokes of gang warfare and telenovela relapses ("You can't leave! You'll break up the family!" "I've made up my mind!" *Bullets ricochet off door* "But what about our son?") slathered throughout. Both Morelli and Meirelles told me not to expect a franchise, and I'm holding them at their words.

Men of City: (L-R) Producer Fernando Meirelles and director Paolo Morelli at Tuesday's special screening of City of Men (Photo: STV)

Meirelles was in town only for a day, in fact, before flying out to continue work on his Julianne Moore/Mark Ruffalo drama Blindness. He screened his most recent cut for Miramax bosses earlier today and said he hopes to have the film finished by late April -- just in time to sneak into a certain popular spring festival. "I'd love to take it to Cannes," said Meirelles, who will present a test screening next week in New York. "I don't know if I'm going to get a slot, but I'd love to."

I told him I liked his odds. He raised his eyebrows and grimaced. "It's a tough film," he said. "It's a very dark story. But that's our goal. It's sold all over the world -- there will be some support."

Fortunately Cannes has recently managed to accommodate a few toughies here and there. Speaking of toughies, what does he make of this whole Tropa de Elite controversy? The cop thriller, which shares a writer and editor with Mereilles' City of God, drew sharp criticism and even conspiracy theories following its recent Golden Bear win at the Berlinale. "I like it very much," he told me. "I don't remember a film in Brazil that touched so many people -- rich people, poor people. It really shook the country. It was amazing."

So why are critics being so hard on it? What alienates them so? "Well, they say the film is fascist, no?" Meirelles replied. "It's about a policeman who wants to deal with crime in a very aggressive way. But the film is very critical of this way of police handling crime. The critics felt it was pro-police, but it's not. The guy who plays this policeman is so charismatic; he tortures people, and he's cruel, but you like him. He's such a nice guy, and by the end you're on his side. But that's interesting! You think you'd never be on his side, but on the other hand, he's so human. That's what I like about it: It's not about baddies and goodies, you know?"

Alas, I don't know -- at least not until I get my hands on one of those pirated screeners floating around or until Harvey Weinstein goes back to pseudonymously uploading clips to YouTube. Could Meirelles relate Tropa de Elite to another Brazilian phenomenon -- say Pixote, or even City of God? "Tropa de Elite is much bigger," he said. "If you read the press in Brazil from last July until today, every day there's something about this film. Politicians have seen it. The lead character is a pop star -- everybody says his lines. Kids try to imitate him."

Like a more folk-heroic Daniel Plainview, maybe? "You don't like him," Meirelles said. "But you like this guy. And there's something else: The police in Rio are very corrupt, and this Elite Squad in the story are very, very honest. They're not corrupt at all. Everybody who does anything corrupt is taken away. So he does what he believes, and nobody corrupts him. That's why people like him. No money can buy him. He's a guy you can trust in a certain way. But even in Brazil, critics called it fascist. It isn't."

I followed up with Morelli, who agreed -- until he didn't. "I think it's a very courageous film because it denounces police corruption in Brazil," he said. "It's very well-done, and I like the movie." Then he paused. "But to tell you the truth, I believe it can cause sympathy for the police corps, which I'm not sure is a good idea. The film promotes this feeling that they are great guys -- the good guys -- instead of portraying it in a certain way condemning their behavior. If that's the reason for the controversy, then I can see it because [director José Padilha] left it a little bit open, you know? He's not condemning the torture. We know it's a bad thing, but the film needs to condemn it. That's how the problem started."

Posted at February 20, 2008 4:08 PM

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