City of God
Leandro Firmino da Hora
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Through the eyes of a young boy named Rocket (Rodrigues), director Fernando Meirelles takes us through the explosion of the drug trade in Brazilian favelas through the sixties and seventies. It's a brutally violent look into the slums even the police don't dare walk into.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
From the comfort of your living room, CITY OF GOD plunges you into a world only minutes away from Eden-like beaches and million dollar condos and into the notorious slums of Rio de Janeiro where cocaine flows and dealers wage daily guerilla warfare on the police and each other. Meireilles' work documents, from the perspective of a poor boy who wants to become a photographer, the transition during the late sixties from the casual marijuana trade to the brutal gang warfare brought about by the need to consolidate trafficking to accommodate nose candy as the new drug of choice. The vehicle for this depiction of life in the slums is the film's harsh and very vivid brutality, often involving children playing a central role, not that of innocent bystanders or victims as we're used to seeing. One scene in which a young child is forced to choose which one of his friends to stick a bullet in is particularly harrowing, but it just serves to underscore the total disregard for human life that exists in that milieu. The violence is so effective in relaying that message that although it remains very difficult to watch the movie without wincing at times, it never gets to the point where it seems cheap and gratuitous.
Naturally, the film is only effective because its wonderfully acted and some would argue the only people fit to play these roles are residents of these favelas themselves. Meireilles seems to be of that opinion which is why most of his cast consists of real slum dwellers and dealers with a handful of trained actors thrown into the mix. The shoot also took place in the real Cidade de Deus, one of Rio’s most notorious slums where life, on a daily basis, is mostly organized and run by the gangs of dealers who prance around with weapons that would make most police departments cringe. Most of the screen time in this movie is dedicated to Rocket, the cowardly kid (by his own admission) who’d rather become a photographer than a dealer and Li’l Zé (Firmino da Hora), the local drug boss whose trigger is happier than a teenage girl in a mall. It’s not all blood and guts though, you even get a few moments of humor, which although rare, serve to humanize the characters albeit very slightly for some. More importantly though, it helps to make us more fortunate folks realize that some people whose actions we can condemn all we want are often there simply from lack of choice and for a desire to survive. Once you’re done though, you can always shut off your big TV, go to your big fridge and get yourself something nice to eat before sipping into your big comfortable bed.
If you think the movie is hardcore, wait 'till you get a load of the documentary discussing the same topic entitled "News from a Personal War" (56 minutes). By listening to this discussion from three different perspectives – the police, the dealers and the slum dwellers – you’ll find that these three groups operate on a whole different plane of existence than do the rest of us in our modern cities. It's also available only in Portuguese but subtitles are available. It's the kind of documentary you start watching and can't turn away from.
CITY OF GOD is a film that definitely has to be seen, whether through rental or purchase. There's isn't much in terms of special features but the documentary does serve it well. The film itself does pack a lot of punch in terms of rewatch value and not just once or twice, but several times. Whatever your means, make sure you get your hands on this film.