Welcome to the world’s most notorious slum: Rio de Janeiro’s ‘City of God.’ A place where combat photographers fear to tread, where Police rarely go, and residents are lucky if they live to the age of 20’s boys rally around the gangs. This is the true story of a young man who grew up on these streets and whose ambition as a photographer is our space in and ultimately may be him the only way out.
City of God (Portuguese: Cidade de Deus) is a 2002 Brazilian crime drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. The story was adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins, but the plot is loosely based on real events. It depicts the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s, with the closure of the film depicting the war between the drug dealer Li’l Zé and criminal Knockout Ned. The tagline is “If you run, the beast catches; if you stay, the beast eats”, (a proverb analogous to the English “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”).
The cast includes Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Jonathan Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Alice Braga and Seu Jorge. Most of the actors were, in fact, residents of favelas such as Vidigal and the Cidade de Deus itself.
An intoxicating shot of cinematic adrenaline, “City of God” starts with a desperate chicken escaping slaughter and being chased by a gang of pistol-packing young boys. It’s the fitting metaphor for the frantic fight for survival of the protagonists in this ferocious blast of gangster mayhem.
Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) narrates our journey into the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the City of God. A child of the 60s, he witnesses two decades of barbarity, greed, rape and revenge which fuel a catastrophic gang war. Fear and an instinct for self-preservation keep him on the straight and narrow, but his childhood associate Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino da Hora) grows into the ghetto’s godfather – a ruthless, demented killer.
This is in strong comparison’s with some of the Scorsese or Park Chan-wook’s crime films are inevitable, given the hyperkinetic action, tar black comedy, and eye-snatching visual panache, with who would be the street king of spectacularly derived boy mobsters and what do they merit is all about the desperation drivers of these children to acts of outrageous violence, crime appears to be the only option in the moral and economic wasteland of the Brazilian favelas. Even the grotesque Li’l Zé is not without humanity, while the fate of other so-called gangsters is poignant.
Rocket witnesses the ensuing gun fights and revenge killings through the lens of his camera. Rodrigues delivers a compelling performance as the film’s beleaguered narrator, and Silva and later da Hora radiate seething ambition and rage as the pint-sized killer with a heart of stone
For all its whiz-bang camerawork and outrageous entertainment value, the movie is grounded by its true life origins and the superb performances of a largely non-professional cast recruited from the streets. Shocking, frightening, thrilling and funny, “City of God” has the substance to match its lashings of style. Mind blowing & cinema doesn’t get more exhilarating than this.
- Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
- Writer: Bráulio Mantovani
- Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Douglas Silva, Seu Jorge, Luis Otavio and Matheus Nachtergaele
- Running time: 130 minutes
- Length: 130 minutes
- Country: Brazil
- Language: Portuguese