Monday, June 11, 2012

#665. City of God (2002)

Directed By: Fernando Meirelles

Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele, Leandro Firmino

Tag line: "If you run you're dead...if you stay, you're dead again. Period"

Trivia:  Seu Jorge, who plays the character Knockout Ned, is a samba-soul singer with cult-status in Brazil. One of his songs can be found on the City of God soundtrack

Simultaneously shocking and breathtaking, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God is unique in that it keeps our eyes glued to the screen, even as our sensibilities are telling us it would be better to look away.

City of God is based on a true story, and recounts the exploits of criminals and drug lords who ruled the slums of Rio de Janeiro for the better part of two decades. 

Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) is a photographer and aspiring journalist who, with his camera at his side, took it upon himself to document the turbulent history of a specific section of Rio, a place known to the locals as the “City of God”. Gang fights, complete with semi-automatic weapons, prevented people from walking the streets, and drug lords crawled over the bodies of their rivals to get to the top. 

No criminal was as volatile, as dangerous as Lil’ Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora), a killer who started young and went on to become the deadliest gangster the City of God has ever known. But even Lil’ Ze had a hard time maintaining control. He eventually grew suspicious of everyone around him, including his closest friends. And as many who live in the City of God can tell you, suspicions often lead to murder.

The fact that City of God is rooted in reality makes it all the more disturbing. I’ve seen poverty and crime in countless movies over the years, yet seldom have either been depicted quite as uncompromisingly as in this film. 

While director Meirelles crafts City of God with a fair amount of cinematic flair, never once does it detract from the brutality of what we are seeing. The stylish, slow motion shootouts and 360 degree pans are there to intensify the awful truth that lies at the heart of this story. In its 130 minutes, City of God takes us in many directions, and through all the bells and whistles, it remains very, very real.

Since the start of the new millennium, Brazil has given the world a number of excellent motion pictures. Movies like Carandiru, director Hector Babenco’s true account of a prison riot that resulted in the deaths of more than 100 inmates in 1992; and Jose Padilha’s Bus 174, a documentary about a man who took an entire busload of people hostage in Rio in 2000. These films are strong examples of how poverty affects the unfortunate souls who deal with it on a daily basis. Like City of God, they can be tough to watch, and the urge to look away may strike you more than once.

But trust me when I tell you looking away will not be an option with City of God. Rarely has violence ever been this captivating.


Skinner said...

Great film, and, yes, absolutely disturbing.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Skinner: Thanks for the comment!

You're right on both counts. For me, this is one of the best films of the new millennium.

Thanks again!