City of God

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Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani
Producers: Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Andrea Barata Ribeiro
Alexandre Rodrigues
Leandro Frimino da Hora
Phellipe Haagensen
A true story based on the lives and times of children growing up in the harsh slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from the 60s through to the 70s, including the gang warfare, the drug rackets, the violence and absolute anarchy all around. Imagine A CLOCKWORK ORANGE…but for real!
Now that’s what I call an “epic” movie! I haven’t been this engulfed inside the world of a motion picture in a long, long time, and the last time that I witnessed this type of consistent violence in any film was probably BLACK HAWK DOWN, and even then, that was more in the form of “military” operations, as opposed to this one, which is mostly hand-to-hand, gun battles, etc… Some of the films and directing styles of which this film reminded me include many of my faves from the past like GOODFELLAS, PULP FICTION, SCARFACE, KIDS, THE WARRIORS, THE GODFATHER, SNATCH and RUN LOLA RUN. The main difference being that this one actually felt like you were watching a documentary about the dirty slums of Rio and not just a movie. The director is also about as vibrant as you can get behind the camera with wicked camera tricks to keep things moving at all times, including slow-mos, split-screens, overheads, shaky cams and everything and the kitchen sink, all of which helped to amplify the gritty situations all the more (the “Farewell to Benny” party is a perfect example of this). The story is also drawn out on a grand scale with many characters introduced throughout and each one’s tale given their own timely unfolding, starting with their childhood, teen years and into adulthood. It also uses a pretty cool technique which allows it to go off into tangents every now and again, while never losing focus on the big picture and the characters at hand. I also loved how the narrator would sometimes say: “But it’s not time to tell that story just yet…that’s later”. Also, despite being subtitled, CITY OF GOD gathered my full attention by the first fifteen minutes alone with many very slick introductions to everyone involved (pay close attention to all the characters’ names because you are going to meet a lot of them through the movie).

The film is also packed with dozens of visceral sequences including the introduction of “The Tender Trio”, the entire development of the character known as Benny, a bunch (I stress the word “bunch”) of gun clashes, many of which are astoundingly handled by children of all ages, as well as a handful of memorable scenes like the “Story of the Apartment”, the “devirginization”, Shorty’s story, the opening and closing sequences (the end credits also include real audio/video of the actual figures from this true-life tale) and many, many more. If you’re like me and appreciate watching a great movie filled with dozens of fascinating characters from a world about which you know very little, this film is sure to bowl you over. It’s also laced with a number of superb acting performances including Leandro Frimino da Hora who plays the character of L’il Ze and scared the shit out of me with this badass attitude and badass ‘fro, Phellipe Haagensen, who played Benny, the coolest gangster in town, and Alexandre Rodrigues, who is our narrator throughout the journey, and the ideal center for a story as such. Unlike many other epic gangster tales told in this fashion, Rodrigues isn’t directly involved in the goings-on, but does witness everything and report it in the greatest of details. But action, insight, developed characters and a true story aren’t the only assets in this flick’s portfolio…it’s also got humor. I’m not talking about the Farrelly brothers’ type of humor, but uncomfortable funny situations, as well as a number of lighter moments, like when one of the kids decides to give “crime” a chance since “honesty just don’t pay” (I hear ya, bud).

The soundtrack is also perfectly matched to the setting and the stories, many of which intertwine and provide a voyeuristic insight into the lives of these very poor, unacknowledged children, many of whom don’t have much choice in life but to do what they do here. The tales are all easy enough to follow as well, but ultimately tragically ironic. And yes, at the end of the day, it’s all about how violence can never really be the end solution to any problem, and that (it’s a cliché but I’m gonna say it anyway)…violence begets violence. If violence is something to which you have an aversion, I would definitely recommend that you not see this movie though. There is enough of it in here to make up for any movies that are without it this year (although not as graphic or bloody as you would think), but as opposed to the Hollywood “blockbusters”, this story is actually about something very real and deeply disturbing. It also involves kids all around, including one very disturbing scene in which children aged 10 and younger are placed in a monstrous position. Nasty stuff. It’s also got a very sobering conclusion, featuring a few “normal” street kids walking around and talking “kid stuff”. Now as much as I’m against this type of stuff in real life, much like Larry Clark’s KIDS, I think it’s important to watch and understand these kinds of movies, since violence does take place all around us and it doesn’t help anybody to pretend that it isn’t there. Ballsy, energetic, violent, poetic, stylized, authentic and highly gripping, CITY OF GOD is a movie that I won’t soon forget and one that I hope that you will try to go out of your way to see as well. Forget GANGS OF NEW YORK, this is the real deal!

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

City of God



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