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City of God
Genre Crime
Year: 2002
 
Review:
City of God aka Cidade de Deus looks and feels real. You know you’re about to see something special, when the opening scene rolls. Chickens are being plucked and prepared, while festive music fills the air. In the City of God, the children are the criminals. They all run around playing ‘cops and robbers’. Only this ‘cops and robbers’ leaves some dead. When they’re not playing soccer on the dusty fields, they’re toting handguns and holding gas trucks up for money and loot. The police are inefficient, and reluctant to get too involved in the violence. The children are not innocent, and in the hard-living conditions they learn that survival is a matter of kill or be killed. City of God is directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-director, Katia Lund and based on the novel by Paulo Lins.

The story revolves around a number of hoods growing up in Brazil. They start in the shadows of Rio de Janeiro, where laws are there to be broken or bent. The kids carry guns with them for protection or for opportunistic crime. They’re pretty average as far as criminals go, and anger displaces fear in a continuous cycle of violence. Lil’ Dice is a Brazilian boy who grows up to become the most feared crime lord in Rio. He’s been teased by the big boys, and wants to lead from the front. The neighbourhood ‘trio’ decide to up the stakes and rob a hotel. Lil’ Dice is the lookout, and once the ‘trio’ empty the pockets of the staff and patrons in the sex-worker hotel, Lil’ Dice cleans up with a few rounds ‘on the house’.

The story follows a number of the youths as they grow up, and the cycle of the youngest rising up to swallow the older teen drug lords. Sympathy is a disease, and belonging to a gang is the only option available. For the youth of Rio, life expectancy doesn’t reach 30, and being a hood is a way of proving your manhood, power and gaining “respect” from your peers. This is a time and a place where joints replace cigarettes, guns replace toys and boys replace men. The film is authentic, and subtitles give outsiders a chance to engage. The actors are unknowns, but hold onto the sense of reality as the story winds its way from the 60s to the 70s. Each character holds your attention, and once you get used to the persistent violence, some even manages to ween some admiration from the audience.

The narrative concerns itself with Rocket (Rodrigues), a young boy from the slums, who has prided himself on sidestepping the gangs and trying to live an honest, “normal” life. Even Rocket can’t resist the temptation to resort to a life of crime, and finds himself on the wrong side of Rio. He simply wants to fulfil his dream of being a photographer, and buy himself a camera.

Instead of shooting guns, he wants to take pictures. He’s caught in the middle of the action. He hasn’t joined Carrot or Lil’ e’s (formerly known as Lil’ Dice) gang. Instead he sides with the local print newspaper, where they find some of his photos taken deep in gangland territory. Corruption seeps from every pore in this urban landscape, and the police are the undercover mafia for the drug trafficking operations for the kids by the kids. Teenage rebellion is exorcised through crime, and the boys don’t seem to live long enough to grow out of it. Urban violence dominates the youth culture, and revenge is their way of life. City of God is powerful, poignant and disturbing. It doesn’t limit itself to Brazil, because although prominent, it mirrors other countries with similar demographics like South Africa. This is where the slums have the perfect conditions to fester and nurture gangsters.

The visuals are clear, sharp and vivid. Each scene is riveting and holds the same quality and intensity as the one it succeeds. City of God is not for sensitive viewers. The film has a documentary feel at times, and the acts of violence are ruthless and carried out with reckless abandon. Moments of shock, awe, empathy, conflict and harmony scatter this film, which is based on a true story. Cidade de Deus (City of God) deserves every accolade it receives, and will be remembered for many years to come. What makes City of God spectacularly brilliant is the fact that it holds very few flaws.

The bottom line: Breathtaking.

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