City of God is an exceptional movie set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in the late 60s through to the 70s. The slums were created by authorities in an effort to move the troublesome and unsightly poor people away from the city centre. It is the story of Rocket, one of the slums inhabitants and his determination to rise above poverty without resorting to crime, which is a way of life for all of those around him.Rocket narrates the film and is introduced just as he is about to start a career in photo-journalism. The rest of the movie is told in flashback and is the story of how he arrived at this point in his life.
Crime is the only way to make a decent living in the slums of Rio. There is no chance of a decent education and the pay rates for ordinary work are devastatingly low. City of God follows various gang members as they move through the ranks from petty criminals through to fearsome drug dealers. One of the most chilling of these characters is Lil Ze who will kill at the blink of an eye and has been taking pleasure in doing so since he was a child. The age of these kids is one of the most disturbing aspects of the film – as a gang war escalates, children who look no older than 10 are seen taking arms.
The movie is an adaptation of a novel by Paulo Lins, who grew up in the City of God. He says it is based on the life of photographer Wilson Rodriguez, a famous Brazilian photographer. The subject matter is obviously close to the heart of director Fernando Meirelles who has made this film with such an intense passion – the like of which are rarely seen in movies today.
Technically City of God is amazing. It is a visual feast of vibrant colours, whirling cinematography and rapid fire editing. Many critics have made comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas in its style and theme. But it needs to be taken into account that Goodfellas was well into the career of a very successful director backed by big name actors as well as big bucks. City of God is the first time that Meirelles has gained international attention and he gives us an equally effective and definitely more realistic movie on a much lower budget, with a cast of unknowns from the heart of Brazil which is an outstanding achievement. Fernando Meirelles is definitely a name to watchCity of God is violent and at times shocking, but not without purpose. It carries a strong social and political message as well as being an inspirational tale about rising up against all odds. Definitely a contender for film of the year, City of God is nothing short of brilliant.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.