"Listen man, I smoke, I snort... I've robbed, I've killed...
I ain't no kid, no way. I'm a real man."

Title: Cidade de Deus
English Title: City of God
Country: Brazil
Language: Portuguese
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani / Paulo Lins (original novel)
Runtime: 135

Character name is followed by the nickname used in the English subtitles in brackets. This is how I will refer to them from now on.

Alexandre Rodrigues - Buscape (Rocket)
Leandro Firmino da Hora - Ze Pequeno (L'il Zé)
Douglas Silva - Dadinho (L'il Dice)
Philippe Haagensen - Bene (Benny)
Matheus Nachtergaele - Sandro Cenoura (Carrot)
Jonathan Haagensen - Cabeleira (Shaggy)
Alice Braga - Angélica
And a handful of completely flawless performances from kids of the favela, it seems pointless to list them all.

Be careful, spoilers ahead
Based on the book of the same name, which is itself at least partly autobiographical, City of God is a film about a place. The whole thing is played out from the perspective of Rocket, a young boy in the 60-70s who has ambitions of being a photographer, but this is not his film, it is the story of the slums of Rio, the favela known as the City of God and the drug wars that took over the area in the 70s.

We follow the stories of increasing levels of violence and drugs in the favela through a series of short sections, relating to a specific person/event. We start in the 60s, with Rocket still a young boy and the tale of the Tender Trio, three slightly older boys making their way into crime by stealing from a gas van and being lead into a Motel robbery by L'il Dice, a psychotic young boy who, unbeknownst to the others, shoots everyone in the motel.

We are next lead kicking and screaming into the 70s. L'il Dice renames himself L'il Zé, and takes over every drug racket in the area, by shooting the current racketeers, except Carrot's, as Carrot is a friend of Benny's, himself a (the only?) friend of L'il Zé. We are shown Rocket's failed attempts at losing his virginity to Angélica, her subsequent relationship with Benny and Benny's death at his own leaving party. Over time, L'il Zé becomes more and more hungry for power and a full-scale war breaks out between his gang and Carrot's. Aided by sharp shooter Knockout Ned (whose peaceful outlook is lost after L'il Zé rapes his girlfriend), Carrot's gang start to put pressure on L'il Zé, before a full scale battle erupts - leading to the arrest of both Carrot and L'il Zé. L'il Zé is released by the corrupt police force only to face death at the hands of a group of young children he had earlier terrorised.

During all this, Rocket, who's life has gone on without major misdemenours, becomes the official photographer for L'il Zé's gang and realises his ambition of working for a newspaper, while also losing his virginity to one of the journalists.

Mindblowing. Seriously. South American films are on a bit of a high at the moment, what with last years Y Tu Mamá También from Mexico and the Argentinian Nine Queens, but this is the best yet.

Fernando Meirelles picked most of these kids off the streets of an actual favela and set up workshops and improvisation sessions to pick out the ones he wanted to use. The results are staggering, with Matheus Nachtergaele being pretty much the only professional actor involved and also being almost the worst thing on display (and this is meant in no way to belittle his performance, as he is also excellent). The performances are so real and so full of passion that it is impossible not to be moved by some of it.

From the opening scene of chicken-plucking, gutting and capturing leading to a stand-off (including Matrix style bullet time), through the story of the drug wars in the 70s and finally to the blood soaked final gun battle, every part of City of God is pretty much perfect. There are moments of completely spellbinding cinema, ranging from a young boy having to choose whether to be shot in the hand or the foot (surely one of the most moving moments in movie history) to an absolutely inspired scene at Benny's leaving do, where L'il Zé becomes increasingly tense, having no idea how to act without shoving his gun at every one in sight, before exploding in a pointless act of rage - ultimately leading to Benny's death.

The film includes some highly inventive editing, clearly inspired by the Wachowski's, Tarantino and even Aronofsky's work in the likes of Requiem for a Dream, but, while nice, this is not really the point of City of God. Having said that, at no point do the split screens / speedups / bullet time distract one from the point at hand - the great story and incredible performances.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest cinema now. (Actually don't, but only because this masterpiece will almost certainly not be showing - you'll probably have to see Men in Black 2 or something).

the non-brazilian imdb.com

No spoilers at all below

Cidade de Deus landed in English cinemas in early January 2003. It is a Brazilian movie, in the Brazilian Portuguese language, from a book by Paulo Lins, subtitled in English as City of God

City of God is the best new movie that I've seen in about a year. Actually I can't think when I last saw something like it.

The Two Towers is also the best movie I've seen in a while. But whereas J.R.R. Tolkien is the ultimate in genre called fantasy that defines escapism, City of God is real, real, real. Reality here is a Brazilian slum in Rio de Janeiro. The story is based on real events. It's a story of poverty, guns, money, drugs and power. It could be any favela's story.

The City of God of the title is a suburb of Rio, built in the 1960s as a home for the poor and homeless. A place to put the unwanted. Somewhere out of the way.

The cast and crew are no one you’ve ever heard of unless you know Brazilian cinema.

The production quality is good. Not Hollywood-good, but more than adequate to tell a story. The story may start off seeming like a workshopped slice of life, but it becomes apparent that they know where they are going, they have learned their storytelling moves well, perhaps with a few lessons from Quentin Tarantino.

At first it's hard to take the characters seriously, these dirty, scrawny brown kids with shorts, no shirts and their antique revolvers. Then we got to that scene with the choice (you'll know the one), during which a woman at the back of the cinema had hysterics, and you realise where it's coming from.

The unspoken subtext is that, that if you shunt all the poor people to a dumping-ground, and abandon them there, then not only are the results to them wrong, but the consequences will come back to bite you. Toting an uzi and hungry for your money.

We are free to choose our own actions. But our freedom is circumscribed in many ways. Firstly by reality. You can't choose to fly. You have to walk. Secondly by opportunities. Maybe the only choice you have in nearby food is McDonald's or Burger King, and your choices are all the same. Choice is not freedom. Thirdly what you like, what you desire, is not plucked from the void, but drawn from what you see around you, from your role models and environment.

The community's reaction to City of God

Though City of God missed out on an Oscar nomination (the inadequacies of the Foreign Film portion of the Oscar commitee are quite another subject, though), it has at the very least shown to both Brazilian viewers and international viewers the danger that is inherent in today's tendency to marginalize the lower classes. The effect of the film on any viewers with enough of an open mind to watch it is extremely powerful; the cinematography matches each scene's mood closely, and the editing is tight and well-done. The effect on the Cidade de Deus neighborhood itself, however, has been quite different.

Many inhabitants of that neighborhood now complain of being discriminated against even further because of the movie's portrayal; some go as far as to tell potential employers that they live not in Cidade de Deus but a nearby neighborhood. The events in the movie take place decades ago, they say; the reality today is different.

The most outspoken critic has been rapper MV Bill, who lives in Cidade de Deus. He states that in Brazil it is all too common to "give with one hand and take away with the other"; he requests that in this case the roles should be reversed, that (the producers) should "take away with one hand and give with the other". Film director Fernando Meireles has stated he agrees with MV Bill's statements, and says the reason they did not get as involved with the community as they could have been was due to the fact that much of the film was not shot there, but in Cidade Alta and Nova Sepetiva.

As to the people of Cidade de Deus themselves, opinion seems to be split. Some feel that the movie's effect is neither positive nor negative, since it reflects a reality of decades past. Others, including some of the actors in the movie, feel differently: "The film's intent is like that of a hip hop video: denounce violence to try to change the situation", states Roberta Rodrigues, who plays Berenice in the film. Yet another group states that the discrimination was there before the film anyway, and the film can't be blamed.

Some solutions presented have been for some of the royalties to return to the community - however, at least from personal experience, having briefly met co-director Katia Lund, the film has not really brought enormous returns, financially, to its creators. Maybe its international release changed that a little, but the effects have probably not been much greater. The issue most prominent in the debate seems to be if art is merely a method of portraying a reality and hopefully sparking change, or if it should be both the agent of portrayal and change - if, for example, the film's earnings brought about positive changes to the community. The fact that the film involved dozens, if not hundreds, of members of the community and gave them a start in film-making is already a start - though it is still far from a resolution to the problems. One can only hope that the film's portrayal of this brutal reality will spark a renewed social movement to get to the root of the problem and change it. Those interested in City of God would also be interested in Pixote, a more São Paulo-centric view of the problem of youth in Brazil - and the fact that that film's main actor, Fernando Ramos Da Silva, who was a non-professional actor prior to the movie, failed to make a career in cinema after the movie and was mysteriously murdered a few years later serves as a warning.


Júlia Maria e Ramiro Zwtsch. "Cidade de Deus em pé de guerra" (City of God at brink of war)

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