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Cidade de Deus seems to have a lot of praise on the IMDb boards, and
with good reason too. It simply is, in my opinion, one of the best
contemporary films ever made.
Based on true events and characters who live in the overlooked and poverty stricken slums in the shadows of Rio de Janiero, where life expectancy doesn't reach the 30's and drug dealers are kings.
The tale of the City of God, and its myriad of characters is told by Rocket, a young man who struggles to make something of his life, other than to wind up another victim of drugs or gang wars.
Not only are the characters in City of God absolutely fascinating, and also very endearing, but also convincingly acted by groups of young and unknown actors. The stoies are well-told, and at times, funny, and at others, brutally shocking.
The cinematic style of the film gives a nod to Tarantino, with some clever time-jumping, freeze-framing, and texts indicating another chapter of the film. In every sense, a bit of a Brazillian "Pulp Fiction" or "Goodfellas", but with its own unique flavour to it.
The City of God is a marvel, and a highly recommended film to watch, but not recommended for the over-sensitive or easily distressed.
The film revolves around the, 'City of God,' a favela (or ghetto) in
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a horrifying area where drug dealers run the
community, and where children killing children is not an uncommon
The story begins with the early stages of the City of God (in the 1960's) showing where many of the problems stem from- the extreme poverty, overcrowding etc. Here, in the early stages of the favela, we meet our main characters, along with the supporting cast. The story revolves mainly around two characters living in the favela, Rocket and Lil Ze, and how they take two different paths through life. Rocket's dream is to become a photographer and to escape the City of God while Lil Ze becomes a powerful gang leader and drug dealer.
The film offers an unflinching look at gang life in the City of God, as it follows the favela through three decades; the 60's, 70's and 80's, and shows how violence just spirals into more violence with the disturbingly high amounts of violence in the favela, most involving teenagers and children.
The direction, cinematography, and editing are all Oscar-worthy. The cinematography is some of the best I have ever seen- with a very visceral, jerky feel, very reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. The editing is very frantic, which makes you feel like you are on the streets of the City of God, and the direction is flawless, seamlessly blending the many elements of the story.
The film was definitely one of the best films I have ever seen. The story, the direction, the cinematography, the editing and the acting all add up to make a excellent movie that I would recommend to all.
Would also recommend: Bus 174 and Carandiru
I knew nothing of this film before I saw it by chance in a rare Pub open screening, but boy was I glad I got the chance to take a look. I was riveted all night - I completely ignored my friends! I thought it was an awesome re-enactment of a true story - powerful, moving, raw, real - and even funny in parts. I walked away afterwards, beaming. It's rare a great film like this is made, especially these days. I gave it ten out of ten. Please see it if you can.
If you're unlucky to be born into a socially, economically and racially
isolated community that has poverty, crime, drugs and violence as its
everyday realities, the odds are stacked incredibly high against you.
It literally takes so much effort, strength, struggle and plain ol'
good fortune to simply avoid becoming a gangster, let alone do anything
more with life. Most who find themselves in the situation described
above never even enter this fight and out of those that do - only the
rare ones succeed.
"City of God" depicts this conundrum masterfully.
In a Rio slum called Cidade de Deus we meet character after character that has the right idea, knowledge and courage to get out but somehow always ends up being pulled right back into this vicious circle. Becoming a hoodlum in Cidade de Deus isn't just a fringe career option for disenchanted rebels and social outcasts - it's the main industry.
The images of gun toting pre-teen killers are very disturbing and Meirelles uses them relentlessly to underscore just how hopeless and frighteningly predetermined life is for these kids. Many of them can't read or write but already know how to use a gun and kill without remorse. In a particularly harrowing scene, local drug lord Ze Pequeno or Lil' Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) exacts revenge on a disobedient gang of 9 and 10 year olds by incapacitating two of them and forcing one of his own kid soldiers, as initiation of sorts, to choose which one of the two he wants to kill. Faced with death, one of the kids starts crying crocodile tears; suddenly all the bravado is gone and he is shown for what he truly is - a desperately misdirected infant.
'If only these people had more options....' is the sentiment reinforced with every gruesome event.
Of course, this lifestyle comes a little more naturally to some than to others. Ze Pequeno, for example, from an early age when he was known as Dadinho / Lil' Dice shows a considerable lack of aversion to blood and death. In another aptly choreographed scene so that we don't know what exactly happened until much later, he more than 'holds his own' alongside much older gangsters during a motel stickup.
Also on hand is a colourful palette of characters. From our narrator Buscape / Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) whose ticket out of the slum is his love of photography over to people like laidback Bene / Benny (Philippe Haagensen), followed by Ze's fierce rival Cenoura / Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele) or good guy turned bad (although it's not so simple) Mane Galinha / Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) we see a multidimensional, pulsating, alive community that seems in need of a strong, sustained outside push to finally stop chasing its own tail and get out of this destructive cycle.
The film, directed by Fernando Meirelles, tells the story of life in the
slums of Rio de Janeiro, in an area known as the Cidade De Deus, the City
God. The story is told from the narration of the young photographer,
Rocket. The different scenarios of life that make up the wider-story are
presented in Pulp Fiction style chapters, complete with on-screen titles
each different story component. The story covers all the facets of the
life, charting the growth of several key members of the gangs from
through to young adulthood, with their transformation from young hoodlums
local drugs barons. The final parts of the story focus on the battle
the Cidade De Deus between two different groups, when business and
matters lead to an unavoidable confrontation. And what a confrontation it
is, although details will not be given away here. The result is a
telling of life based around real-life events.
Martin Scorsese seems to have a heavy influence on the direction of this picture, with many moments looking familiar to fans of the legendary American filmmaker. Close ups, sweeping scene shots, freeze-and-zoom shots, and a frenzied handheld approach are all trademarks that will be recognisably traceable to Scorsese, having been used throughout his career. Many shots remind the viewer of Scorsese's narrative dialogue-camera relationship in Goodfellas, in which the camera was used to brilliant effect to highlight the main points in the script. This technique is used heavily in the first twenty minutes of Cidade De Deus, with the freeze frame trick being used to introduce the story's main characters alongside the dialogue of narrator, Rocket.
Throughout the film one cannot help but watch a scene and think, 'I've seen that in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, or Casino', and this may make some look less favourably on the film's direction. However, it is not fair to consider this 'a Brazilian Goodfellas', as one critic has observed. The story has parallels - the underlying ideas of gangsters, drugs and violence -, the direction is similar, and the story is told with narration, much like Ray Liotta's role in Scorsese's epic. But to regard this film in terms of what styles it repeats or nods it's hat to, is to be very ignorant. Fernando Meirelles, has done a wonderfully hypnotic job of blending the old styles, and bringing them up to date with flashy and sometimes dangerously kinetic direction and editing. Look only to the leaving-party scene in which strobe lighting is used to extraordinary effect, almost suffocating the story below a bombardment on the visual senses. Think of a crossover between the visual energy of the Matrix and the violence of the club scene in Bad Boys.
Cidade De Deus is much more than a directorial assault on the senses. As Raul Walsh said if you don't have a story you have nothing, and many flashy Hollywood films have fallen short in using 'ultra-modern' direction to disguise the fact that no substantial story exists underneath. Cidade De Deus is most brilliant in that it combines directorial and editorial brilliance with a story that is almost second to none in recent times. Only the true greats manage to cater to these two needs of cinema, and this is one that does. The direction is amazing, but not to disguise the story flaws, and the story is brilliant, but does not overwhelm directorial originality. But simply, Cidade De Deus is a perfect film for avid fans of cinematography, and those just in search of two hours of a bloody good story.
I cannot decide yet if I would consider this better than Amores Perros, but it is certainly not inferior. The at-the-same-time stylish and brutal visuals of Amores Perros are replaced by a grittier, more hands on approach to the subject. Whilst in Amores Perros the characters took precedent, in Cidade De Deus the location is as big a character as those who live there. As a result we get a much greater feeling of the environment in which the characters exist, and so it is perhaps easier to empathise, and/or sympathise with them. As the official press synopsis says, Cidade De Deus is a character, but is a place not a person. Amores Perros triumphs in creating relationships between the audience and the characters, as it concentrates for a long time on relatively few people, each of whom we grow to know and ultimately care about, which is important for the emotional impact of the film. Cidade De Deus deals with dozens, even hundreds, of characters, and so it is only a minority that we become attached to. This means that while the film leaves a lasting impact we are not left with the same inquisitiveness about the future for the characters that we meet in Amores Perros. Both films leave open ends, but Cidade De Deus feels closed. Whether you consider this a good or bad thing is a matter for personal choice.
Cidade De Deus is essential viewing, and is cinema at its most brilliant. It will of course feel the wrath of critics who will dwell on the almost unimaginably high body count, but there are always those who will reject violence in the movies. In fact the violence in Cidade De Deus, even the apocalyptic ending, is not as raw and bloody as many will expect. Blood spilling is a rare sight, and the violence rests mostly, but not always, on choreography rather than in your face bloodshed. The result is violence, but it is often so artistic that it looks beautiful rather than deterring. Like Scorsese's Taxi Driver the violence is abhorrent, but admirable from a cinematic perspective.
In short, this is a superb achievement, and is easily one of the best films of the year, and of the decade so far. Like it's predecessors, this is the latest film to come out of South America that indicates the emergence of major new talent in filmmaking. Hollywood beware.
I have seen this movie only recently (2005) and it's easily one of the
better foreign films I have seen. Actually, it's probably just about
one of the best films I had ever seen.
The characters really make this movie come alive with each of their compelling personalities shining though in the backdrop of oppressive conditions and constant violence. One thing which clearly comes to mind is "Lil' Dice's" ear to ear smile - so vivid and yet so ironic since he personifies pure evil.
The City of God is a world you don't want to visit, it won't be featured on a post card, and it's said to be the city ignored by god himself. This movie makes you feel uncomfortable, puts you on the edge of your seat -- you are right into the middle of the City and you too are caught up in it's violent temptation. More importantly, it's about the triumph of the human spirit against all odds.
This movie in effect is fast paced and hard to follow (with the added stress of subtitles over Portuguese), but it's worth it; and in fact really adds to the impetuous and impulsive undertones of the movie. In addition, the quintessential Brazilian music blending into the film like a well made Caprahina makes it feel authentic like the Italian music in the God Father.
You see the flaws of these men played out in an almost fatalistic nature -- hated, greed, futility; and in it all we see ourselves, our own flaws, and our own condition.
I am a big fan of foreign film, because its great to see directors with different points of view than the average American director. City of God is the epitome of a great foreign film. It shows the classic struggle between right and wrong, in a brand new way. The raw directing style, coupled with a great soundtrack makes for a movie which many different kinds of people can enjoy. Weather your a Harvard intellectual or the local idiot, you can enjoy this. The vicious cycle of the gangster lifestyle is portrayed with haunting accuracy. It even forces the audience to sympathize with some of the nastiest thugs in the world. All in all, City of God is one the greatest movies of my time and each time i watch it i enjoy it more than the last.
I have made an effort to watch all the movies in IMDb's top 100 rated
list. As of now, I'm looking for a place where the DVD for Sunset Blvd.
is (currently at #30). But this movie is one of the movies I've seen
that's on the list. And I find it an amazing film (currently #5 on my
top 10 list). What I enjoy about this film is the visual look of the
film, but also the way the director puts you in the story. At the end
of the film you have become friends with just about everyone in the
film, even though some of the characters are very despicable people.
The violence hits you in the chest like a load of bricks sometimes,
especially when you recognize that many of the kids involved in the
violence are right around 10 or 11, but you also realize that this
reflects the culture of the slum these kids live in.
Gangster films always seem to make for good dramas (e.g. the Godfather, Goodfellas), where the culture of evil almost always triumphs as the dominant character. This film is no different, but it shows the life of children in places where bribery and corruption reigns supreme. It also shows the bravery of many of these people when even the government won't stick up for them.
If you're thinking of starting to watch some foreign language films, this is a good place to start. It is a classic IMO among films made in languages besides English. I did find that the subtitles in this film were done rather poorly (they displayed on my DVD player at the wrong times and it took a few plays to figure out who was saying what.) But I think the film itself is a truly great film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Do not be fooled by the coy charm of the promotional poster. The image
of the girl shyly leaning over to kiss the cheek of a bare-backed boy
on golden sands drenched in sunlight represents an ideal that many
residents of the City of God strive for, but few achieve.
The rewards are all too tangible: The football, the music, the heady culture of samba and carnival joie de vivre is never far away, but escaping from the slums of Rio is a little more complicated than sloping off to the beach for the afternoon. The City of God is a raging maelstrom of violence, drugs and gang warfare, and its inhabitants are indoctrinated in the way of the gun from an early age.
Fernando Meirelles' film (based on a true story) is a breathtakingly convincing interpretation of life in the notorious Rio favela. Using hundreds of real-life slum children to supplement a superb central cast and shooting entirely around the dusty streets and abject poverty of the neighbourhood, Meirelles charts the history of the area through the narration of Rocket, a peaceable soul with journalistic aspirations who is entirely at odds with the mayhem around him.
Rocket explains how the slum was used as a dumping ground for all Rio's undesirables in the 1960s. Despite a population of criminals and ne'er-do-wells, the early part of the film is an homage to plucky underdog cheeriness and community spirit. Rocket's brother is a member of the 'Tender Trio', a dashing group of bandits who go about brandishing pistols and holding up gas trucks like latter day highwaymen.
Despite an elegant notoriety, the Trio's crimes tend to yield less than impressive fiscal reward, so they plan a heist on a motel-cum-knocking shop in an attempt to up the ante. It goes badly wrong. The gang's lily-livered tendencies mean they make a sharp exit at the first sniff of trouble but, unbeknownst to them, their lookout, unhappy with his passive role in proceedings (as bored nine-year-old little brothers are wont to be), strolls into the motel and fires at will, chortling psychotically as each hooker and john crumples to the floor.
The kid in question is L'il Dice, a chubby Arnold-out-of-Diff'rent-Strokes lookalike with an insatiable lust for mayhem. The motel incident marks a shift in emphasis for the City of God and the following years see the slum descend into chaos as L'il Dice (later renamed L'il Ze) builds a narcotics empire by ruthlessly eliminating the competition.
The streets become a recruiting ground for drug dealers and gang lieutenants. Small children (or 'runts' as they are affectionately known) come to see guns and criminal activity as the only viable rungs up the status ladder. 'I smoke, I snort, I've killed and robbed - I'm a man,' one prepubescent boy states defiantly.
The film culminates in all-out war between L'il Ze's bunch of hoodlums and an idealistic group of insubordinates who throng behind the handsome Knockout Ned after he stands up to Ze's cruel regime. Meirelles is careful not to lionise Ned. Turning him into a hero figure would, I suppose, have romanticised a bitter and essentially futile conflict. Rocket, caught in the middle of the hostility highlights the ultimate irony: 'By the end, after years of fighting, nobody could remember how it all started,' he says. The war becomes the way of life in the favela. Being affiliated to one of the gangs gives the street kids credibility and, more importantly, access to weapons. Before long, guns are being handed out like lollipops, and the runts are running about excitedly firing their new 'toys' indiscriminately. It is the ultimate in power without responsibility.
In their breathless exaltations, many reviewers have dubbed City of God 'Brazil's answer to Goodfellas'. It is a comparison that may be sound in terms of structure Meirelles has certainly mastered Scorsese's canny editing and daring method of chronicling events over long periods of time but overall this is a different beast. It is more of a Lord of the Flies with AK-47s. The most alarming aspect of all is the shocking lack of parental presence.
This is essential in conveying the choices these street children have (or rather don't have). L'il Ze and his barbaric ilk become all these poor, impressionable little tykes have to aspire to. In short: they don't stand a chance a fact sharply illustrated in one particularly distressing and almost unwatchable initiation scene where a young gang recruit is required to murder a cornered infant in order to appease his older colleagues.
But Meireilles does not let this base, visceral tone swamp his movie. In Rocket he has an inspirational protagonist the perfect foil to the madness and despair. His coming of age scenes where he bashfully attempts to flirt with girls and lose his virginity; and the sequence where he and his mate resort to petty crime only to bottle out when their intended victims turn out to be 'way too cool' to rob are the glue that holds the drama together. Without the light relief this would be intense and depressing fare.
As it is, City of God is a triumph of story-telling: Magnificent, gut-wrenching and utterly compelling, it is cinema of the very highest order.
Do not miss it.
'What are you doing, you're just a kid?' "I steal, I kill, I carry a
gun, how can I be just a kid? I am a man."
Many who visit Brazil the first time, tend to view Brazilians as lacking serious ambition. They seem to party the night away, and appear to seldom work. The old joke about Brazilians is that they have breakfast at 2:00 in the afternoon.
But such a narrow view does not take into account the fact that while we in America work to live, sweating away for pennies which the government steals at every turn, they in Brazil Live to Live. It is a different kind of living, a life that sambas with the vibrance of the swaying palm and the bounding drum. A life that understands that we are only on this earth for a cup of cafezinho, and we should have fun while we can before the end comes, but quick.
But as the City of God also shows us, Brazilian life is often nasty, brutish and short. A certain degree of anarchy overshadows all the denizens of the film. But Director Fernando Meirelles takes a situation lacking definite boundaries and clear authority, and creates a framework, a structure, that of Gang Rule. The gang-members are not seasoned, old-time criminals like Fredo Corleone or even Tony Montana. Instead, they are a bunch of sweet-faced kids. No one is older than 25, partly because of choice, but mainly because no one lives past this age.
On the surface, in this context, City of God is a coming of age story of two young people, a sort of Brazilian "Angels With Dirty Faces.' One character escapes from the City of God, while the other succumbs to it.
But when one scratches beneath, one finds the film a comment on the morally bankrupt City of God in Rio De Janeiro, and a mirror on Brazil itself. Far away from the party hopping, Travel and Leisure postcard perfect white beaches, is another world, one of marauding bands of displaced children.
The most surprising thing about City of God is its references to American films. Most Brazilian films, as the films of all countries do, owe allegiance to their own particular cultural situation. Brazil owes a cultural debt to Europe (Portugal, Germany, Italy) and Africa. However, the United States has a far more distant cultural relationship to Brazil. That is where City of God triumphs to me an American film goer. It uses the chapter format made famous in Pulp Fiction and more recently, Kill Bill. It uses the familial structure present in Goodfellas. It uses the 'white-suit cool' present in Miami Vice and the Bacardi and cola ads from the preview before this very movie.
The fact that City of God can be subtitled Grand Theft Auto: Sao Paolo, is not a surprise nor a mistake. The film is built like a video game in its use of random acts of violence. But the fluid perfect camera work and editing give way to a film with enormous contradictions. Contradictions as large and as vast as the noble country itself.
Stylistically, the camera work does not conform to its premise as a gangster film. A gangster film never looked this good. It is as if the camera is released in the wide open beaches, and kicked around like one of Ronaldinho's headers. It starts on the sand and moves steadily across. It picks up on the story but then heads into the sun. It then leaves us, the film-viewer, with the most indelible image in years as we see Sonia Braga (A world icon and sex symbol of Brazil)'s niece, sitting on the sun-drenched coast putting her arm around another young boy. The innocence conveyed in this scene is something to behold. It literally takes your breath away.
You see the slamming of different, competing themes. You see the subtlety and tranquility of the beach, smashed into scenes of battered youths dying on city streets. You see a wealth of hypnotic ambiguous images pulled together, much like the very Culture of Brazil itself.
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