Monday, October 14, 2013

City of God

City of GodExploding on the screen with color, violence and a great story, this Brazilian film captures the essence of life in the City of God, a slum of Rio de Janeiro. Based on a true story of a young man who somehow escaped the preordained fate of his companions by becoming a photographer, the director, Fernando Meirelles, uses every modern technique to achieve his razor-sharp scenes of drugs, murders and non-stop violence that spins out of control and just keeps going.

The frantic energy of the film and fascinating story kept me at the edge of my seat, as a voice-over narration that moved backwards and forward in time, held the story together. All of a sudden, a detail would be revealed that explained something that happened in the past, and, like an electric shock, my grasp of the story would move to even deeper levels. There was little time to ponder it all though, because I was so caught up in what was happening on the screen that it was only later that I could appreciate the brilliance.

We watch several young boys grow into teenagers, tentatively experiencing the world of girls and drugs and guns and murders and crime. There's upbeat samba music throughout, and brilliant colors and blood. There's horrific violence, and also fine moments of humor and humanity. All together it just picked me up and plunked me down right into the middle of this world which made me hold my breath and live on the edge with the more than 200 non-professional actors who were recruited for this film. The sense of place is amazing. And the acting was more than just acting. It was real. And it was also one of the most creative films I've ever seen. Bravo to the filmmakers! I give "City of God" my highest recommendation.

"City of God" ("Cidade de Deus") is the story of a boy, but also the story of a "favela" (Portuguese word with similar meaning to slum or shantytown) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. That shantytown is called "Cidade de Deus". Throughout this extraordinary movie both the boy and the favela grow, albeit obviously in very different ways :)

The boy is Rocket (Buscapé in Portuguese, played by Alexandre Rodrigues), who is born in Cidade de Deus and grows up before our eyes living in it. He is quiet and easygoing, just a non-violent person seeking a way to survive in a brutal environment. Rocket ends up doing exactly that through his passion, photography, that ends up making him an intermediary between the local gangs and the press. He is also the narrator of this movie, the voice that accompanies us throughout many of the stories that "City of God" has to offer...

The other main character of "City of God" is the "city" itself, that starts merely as a couple of houses, but that grows immensely as years go by. The activities in which its inhabitants are involved also change, from petty robbery to organized crime that involves drug dealing and arms trafficking. We see Li'l Zé (Zé Pequeno in Portuguese, played by Leandro Frimino), one of the boys that used to play soccer with Rocket, grow up to become a murderer and a drug lord, someone that makes his own laws. The same happened with others, but Li'l Zé probably represents to most dangerous kind of sociopath that the favela can produce. Rocket and Li'l Zé, same circumstances, different persons, different choices. Who says that where you lives determinates how you are and what you do?. This is an excellent example that that is not always the case...

Directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund somehow managed to convey in their movie the full strenght of the novel (written by Paulo Lins) on which "City of God" is based. This film is full of colour and energy, carrying the spectator at a dizzying pace through the twenty years it covers, never giving him time to get bored. It is wortwhile to point out that most of the "actors" didn't have any real experience as such, they just happened to live in different slums of Rio de Janeiro (including Cidade de Deus) at the time when the film was being made. I think that is something that shows in the realism of the results...

On the whole, I can say that I loved "City of God", notwithstanding the fact that it is undeniably bloody and has some very violent scenes. In my opinion, they are not gratuitous, because they help the directors to capture what may really happen in a Brazilian shantytown, and show it to us. All in all, this movie is nothing short of an experience worth having and sharing. If you watch "City of God" and love it as much as I do, do your part and recommend it to others :)

Belen Alcat

Buy City of God Now

So this is what Brazilian ghettos look like. Stylistically a little like "Traffic" (liberal reliance on sepia tones or drugs) or "Salaam Bombay" (similar theme couched in the streets of Bombay), this movie is a bloody but captivating look at real life in modern day Rio.

Gangsterism is no more a fringe career option amidst the socio-economic strife of the city, but a prime-time industry that takes guts and guile to keep away from. Character after character in the movie fall a prey to this vicious panoply of drugs, poverty and gore. An underlying personal thread is the story of how our protagonist, Rocket, becomes a news photographer and escapes from the slum. Plus, a minor subplot about how he loses his virginity.

Technically, the movie is nothing short of stunning. Several virtuoso scenes are strewn together with clever direction in which the dizzying pace and the sheer number of characters don't detract from a coherent, well told story. We are led in and around scenes, and frequently led back to explain why what occured occured. Wannabe-editors will marvel at how cunningly this effect is achieved. The cinematography, needless to mention, is geewhiz, the screen literally pops with color.

I could wax eloquent about more reasons but the proof is in the pudding. City of God bursts at the seams with energy, vivid color and a poignant story of a man's escape from the social drivel he is born into. If you can get your hands on this movie, do so pronto, you won't regret it.

Read Best Reviews of City of God Here

More than a regular movie, "Cidade de Deus" is an experiment in filmmaking. With only one or two exceptions, all the actors were residents of the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of the same name of the movie. They were all exhaustingly auditioned and trained to participate on the movie with the best and greatest authenticity they could manage. That's what make "Cidade de Deus" so unique. It's an authentic movie, with an authentic story and authentic characters.

The story is about the people of "Cidade de Deus", a poor neighborhood built far from the ellegant and glamourous center of Rio de Janeiro of the sixties, built for and by poor families who were later to live there. Of course, during the next decades, The city of Rio de Janeiro englobed Cidade de Deus, and suddenly the poor families were not so far away from the rich zones of the town. Through the years, we follow the life story of some local kids, from utter poverty to immense richness from the traffic of narcotics. We also follow their own destruction in the form of war between rival traffic gangs.

Fernando Meirelles was able to transmit, in fast paced rhythms and camera movements, the struggle for power and freedom in the poor suburb. He was also able to mantain the local people-turned-actors authenticity and liberty of acting. There are some strong scenes that leave the spectator mesmerized by their violence and reality.

I just hope that the guy/team responsible for the subtitles in english, or in any other language, was someone with an enormous knowledge of portuguese, because the dialogue and constant use of slang (yours truly, a native brazilian, had some hard time in understanding the meaning of some words used in the dialogues) are, alone, amazing aspects of the movie.

One of the best enterteinment I ever had.

Grade 9.6/10

Want City of God Discount?

This film is another proof that confirms my view that some of the most vital films are made in South America right now. While American cinema caters to mindless escapism and self-help drama, films like "Y Tu Mama Tambien", "Amores Perros", and this magnificent film portray what's important and consequential about life.

"City of God" tracks the lives of hoodlums in the ghettos near Rio de Janeiro for three decades. Rocket is the main narrator, a boy who tries to overcome his circumstances to become a photographer. The character work is excellent, and gangsters like Li'l Ze, Knockout Ned, and others come to vivid life. The world depicted in this film is a bleak one, and although violent, much of the violence seems a necessary commentary on what makes the people living in it act in such a way.

The camera work, and the narrative technique, one that loops backward and forward, is dazzling. This is surely one of the most aesthetically and visually strident films in recent years.

All in all, "City of God" deserves to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year. It's nothing short of brilliant.

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