City Of God

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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge, Alexandre Rodrigues
Director: Fernando Meirelles

Cidade de Deus – the City of God – is a slum ‘favela’ district of Rio de Janeiro and the subject of Fernando Meirelles second feature film. Just one of the favelas within the Brazilian capital, it’s ironic that despite its name, God seems to have forgotten the place. Young men have created their own law, drug dealers fight for territory on the streets and children carry AK47s. It’s a place no middle class Brazilian would dare to venture – and its existence is an embarrassment to the government. OK, so you’re thinking about a bleak and depressing drama, a gritty, raw dark and violent film, but CITY OF GOD is one of the finest, thoughtful and most colourful films you’re ever likely to see about poverty and the causes of criminality.

Meirelles chose to make the film after reading Paulo Lins book of the same name. A resident of Cidade de Deus, Lins’s family like many others arrived in the city in the 1960s after being expelled from their land in the North East of Brazil. The government struggled to build houses in the capital, but the suburbs were soon over-populated and work was scarce. Young men soon turned to trading marijuana, or holding up gas trucks, but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s and the emergence of cocaine as the recreational drug of choice, that the criminal gangs really started to make the place a living hell. As Walter Salles (CENTRAL STATION aka CENTRAL DO BRASIL) who helped fund the film wrote in the Guardian recently – there are more than 400,000 violent deaths in Brazil each year – more than three times the total number of deaths in Kosovo. And many of these are related to drugs.

The film is narrated by Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) a boy who dreams of becoming a photographer and it’s through his eyes that we see his young friends take their various paths through life, some not even surviving their teens and others getting sucked into gangs and the drug trade. The main relationship is between Lil Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) who emerges as the King of the City and his softer comrade Bene (Pheillipe Haagensen) who manages to keep his friend from turning the city into a bloodbath. Split into three beautifully blended parts we take the journey from the 60s to the 80s by changing soundtrack, colour and taste of the streets – a vibrantly pulsing city that is not always bleak and humourless. Perhaps the finest part of the film is the performances of the young actors, many of who were recruited in the favelas. They deserve to be extremely proud of their achievements on screen.

6 out of 6 stars