God's little acre
Brazil's "City of God" not just the biography of a drug gang, but a portrait of a whole generation in a forgotten ghetto outside Rio de Janeiro is both masterful storytelling and high-octane filmmaking.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Gangster movies come and go, but rarely is there one as
passionate and intense as "City of God." The basic story of
this Brazilian film is not that different from, for
example, "New Jack City" (not a bad movie itself) or "Blow," but "City of God" rises so
far above the conventions of its genre and of most
ordinary filmmaking that it's a completely transcendent experience an exhilarating, two-feet-off-the-ground fireball of a movie.
The title refers to an ironically named slum on the
outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, with endless rows of
ramshackle houses surrounded by dirt lots. God's
presence is hard to detect here. Kids in Cidade de
Deus grow up playing soccer in dusty fields when
they're not playing gangster in imitation of the
neighborhood heroes. It's a place where scores are
settled with violence and when the underequipped cops
arrive in their rickety VW Beetles, nobody saw
|CITY OF GOD|
|Original title: Cidade de Deus.|
Directed by: Katia Lund, Fernando Meirelles.
Written by: Braulio Mantovani.
Adapted from a novel by: Paulo Lins.
Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe
Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Jonathan Haagensen, Matheus
Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge, Jefechander Suplino, Alice
Braga, Emerson Gomes, Edson Oliveira, Michel de Souza,
Roberta Rodrigues, Luis Otávio, Maurício Marques.
In Portuguese with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
"City of God" follows the biggest boss of them all,
Li'l Zé, from before he picked up his first gun. But wait, the narrator tells us in one of many seeming digressions before plunging into Li'l Zé's story, "first I have to tell you about the Tender Trio."
Three fun-loving hoodlums who knock over
the occasional gas truck for kicks, the Tender Trio
start getting bored with the easy score. "What we need is to rob some rich guy's house. That's
the only way we're going to get out of here," says
"What you need is to follow my plan," says Li'l
Zé, then known as Li'l Dice. The kid is probably no
more than 10 at the time, but as our narrator
explains, he has "the gift of crime."
By the time he"s 18, Li'l Zé rules the City of God,
splitting the turf with two other bosses. A shaky peace takes hold under his reign, killing and looting are forbidden, the drug business is booming, the cops are on the take, and times are good.
But, as you might also say of the American drug culture (American culture having numerous echoes in this movie), a good thing started to turn bad as the '70s gave way to the '80s. Drugs brought money, money brought greed and guns, the greed brought hate and the guns brought death. Li'l Zé is not only one of the perpetrators of the violence he is its sociopathic vortex. His personal deterioration from dictatorial benevolence to tormented amorality is reflected in the fate of the neighborhood and its people.
Our guide to the City of God is Rocket, a local kid whose no-good older brother labels him too smart for a gangster's life but who would surely wind up another corpse on the street if he didn't find his life's calling: photography. Armed with a cheap point-and-shoot and a keen eye, he becomes the chronicler of his community. One of the movie's many surprises is that the hero is one of the good guys, which gives it a very different tone from the standard-issue mob movie like "The Godfather" or "GoodFellas." We're not meant to sympathize with the gangsters as much as move fluidly among them, like Rocket, and feel their world around us.|
The movie's exhilarating visual and storytelling style which are really one and the same grabs you by the collar and yanks you through time and space until you've seen the whole picture. Tense situations are filmed in a supercharged, fast-motion montage that feels almost like the eye of a photographer searching for the best shots and freezing on them when it finds them. Characters are introduced through sudden jocular digressions, and then just as quickly we're told that it's not yet time to tell their stories. Eventually they all come back, interwoven into one narrative tapestry whose entire scope we finally behold by the end. The movie juggles an impressive collection of characters not the usual empty machiavellian mob killing machines but real personalities in a story that's about a community, poverty, friendship and growing up as much as it's about crime. Superbly acted by a cast of very young actors, "City of God" is an unforgettable epic portrait of a people.
|SEPTEMBER 2, 2003|
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Reader comments on City of God:
Eeek from Zara, Sep 28, 2003
:) from Anynomous, Oct 3, 2003
amazing from incandescent, Mar 21, 2004
awesome from joel mathurin, Mar 3, 2005
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