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City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002)

  Directed by: Kátia Lund, Fernando Meirelles
Written by: Paulo Lins, Bráulio Mantovani
Starring: Leandro Firmino, Alexandre Rodrigues
Links: City of God on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy the Book
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"In the hand or in the foot?" - a review by em_fiction

City of God is a film that I was meant to see at least a year ago, but due to a few other unfortunate commitments, I never got around to it until a few nights ago. While most films that land in the IMDb Top 250 upon release eventually drop, slowly or dramatically, depending on their hype, City of God is one of the rare cases where there was never really any hype initially, but rather the word-of-mouth spreading of it has since built up a cult following. As a result, it's crawled its way up the Top 250 and hasn't stopped since, beginning roughly in the mid 100's and now sitting comfortably at 18. Is this an overrating? Yes. But is it unfathomable that the film has reached this high? Not really.

Cidade de Deus, or the City of God, is an area in Rio de Janeiro which evolved into one of the most frightening, dangerous and depraved crime centres of Brazil. The film initially gives us a history of the area, winding back to the 60s when we first meet Rocket and Li'l Dice. Rocket, our narrator, is one of the very few honest kids living in the City of God who actually wants an education. Li'l Dice, however, is after a godly reputation as a crime lord. Inevitably, both take grow up to be very different young men — Rocket becomes aspiring photojournalist while Li'l Dice, now Li'l Zé, is a frightening, sadistic drug lord and crime boss.

As I mention in my introduction, the film has certainly not been short on its praise. Personally, however, I had trouble finding it as outstanding and compelling as I had been hoping it to be. It may have been because of a mild predisposition of mine to form an opposing side, as I tend to do this naturally whenever there's some sort of hype. It's a kind of bias I can't help. But still, the film itself isn't without its flaws.

The pace is relentless. This is occasionally a good thing, setting up the kind of mood and chaos you'd expect in this lawless town, but I found that following the film's frantic plot and chaotic hand-held camera was almost like being forced to keep up with someone who's running way too fast. Halfway through the film, things do become a bit more steady — if it weren't for that, the subtitles would have been the only thing stopping me from being thrown into a state of complete confusion.

Apart from that, I have no real other complaints about the film. It is an excellent film, which presents a genuine, albeit stylised view of this frightening place. It's difficult to believe how some parts of the world can be so corrupt and lawless, and the sensitivity to weapons and violence we're so used to here are completely unknown there. Fernando Meirelles employed a lot of non-actors in the area, which was also a different part of Brazil because the real City of God would've been far too dangerous to shoot. There was also an interesting piece of footage Meirelles threw in during the end credits to show, I guess, that the depicted world in the film is a reality in Brazil, and not total fiction.

The film was also very draining, as you could imagine how having to chase someone would be. I was surprised that the film only went for 130 minutes, because it felt much longer. The violence was also very brutal, not in terms of the actual violence, but the nature of the violence. One scene in particular was difficult to swallow; the realistic performances from the child actors made it especially distressing.

It's certainly a powerful one, City of God, and despite the gimmicky plot tangents and stylised camerawork, it ultimately delivers its message.

em_fiction gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 15 Nov 2005

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