Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen
“Fight and you’ll never survive…Run and you’ll never escape.”
Based on true events of a Brazilian slum in Rio de Janeiro, ‘City of God’ tells a harrowing tale of one boys fight to escape poverty and crime.
Over the course of roughly two decades, the story is told through the eyes of our young protagonist; ‘Rocket’, who desperately wants to make something of himself and free himself from the violence, drugs, robberies and corruption of the ‘City of God’.
It’s established very early on in the film that the name of the slum, ‘City of God’, is blatant irony being that the place is completely overrun with all forms of crime and immorality. The first 20-30 minutes depict how the young citizens of the slum view crime as a necessity, and the only way in which they can make something of themselves and claim respect amongst the local population. It is clear that over time to some characters their “necessities” have started to become entertaining, and sadly this is passed on to the younger generations who then also aspire to such crimes.
‘Rocket’ introduces us to many important characters that are well respected in the community. One of which is ‘Lil Zé’, 18, and the sole king of the ‘City of God’. An inhumane and immoral character who only received maximum respect through murder and drugs.
‘Lil Zé’ is an immensely frightening character; it’s very hard to find a soul or a shred of humanity within him. He is a prime example of an underlying tone of a vicious cycle; influenced by older boys when he was younger, he aspired to become something greater than those who looked down upon him as a child and made himself the most feared member of the slum.
There is one particularly devastating scene which demonstrates this, it is also likely to stick with you forever.
Everybody fears everybody within the community, ‘Lil Zé’ has a large gang, and to join his side is a symbol of respect, and this is the ideal that all the young people of the slum have been taught.
All except ‘Rocket’, who hopes to become a photographer one day, to form a legitimate career and to escape the hold the city has over him.
‘Rocket’ is a sign of courage and hope, he even quotes that the slum is purgatory at one point, and ‘Rocket’ highlights this by being the only, or one of few, young people to hope to have aspirations of becoming something worth while and legitimate, where others view money as their only form of escape.
During the course of the film, however, he becomes influenced by his surroundings and attempts to turn to the world of crime, but he has too much heart to commit any such acts. Each guy ‘Rocket’ met on his attempted descent was a “cool guy”, and he couldn’t bring himself to do any harm.
It’s amazing how someone as young as ‘Rocket’ (also 18 ) can think like he does within his surroundings. Whilst everyone else desires respect through crime, he desires it through legal methods. This can either be construed as fate, some form of intervention from ‘God’, or it could be because of the underplayed idea of his brother, ‘Goose’, wanting better for him and this ideal being subconsciously active throughout ‘Rocket’s life.
Amongst all the various crime and drug use and dealing, it is made perfectly clear that all the main characters involved are but only teenagers. They like to party, hang out on the beach, and our protagonist has a crush on a pretty young girl called ‘Angélica’, who he wants to sleep with.
These are simple lives made extraordinary, and for the most part, nobody wants that.
‘Lil Zé’, however, is displayed to be purely business orientated and has very little interest in anything other than his respect and power. If his hormones kick in, he will act upon them illegitimately.
Though ‘Zé’ appears to be devoid of emotions and humanity, a small amount is shown during the film. He displays a little envy, aggression and a small amount of sadness in one scene, however this is quickly ended. This makes you wonder as to whether he is actually instinctively psychotic, or perhaps just badly damaged from a tough childhood.
Visually, this is quite a strange film. It has a somewhat light-hearted aura surrounding it which is sometimes strengthened by an excellent soundtrack. This makes for an extra punch because it highlights how natural and normal this life is for all the residents of the city and can be quite a tough thing to think about.
Some of the imagery, however, is very powerful and graphic making them often hard to handle. This imagery is made strong by a wonderful young cast who give excellent performances throughout. I’m sure if I were fluent in Portuguese, I’d find some small discrepancies within their line delivery, but as it stands, everybody seems very natural bringing about very strong characters.
The soundtrack is superbly chosen, at certain times of terror, the soundtrack adds an oddly ambivalent sense of joy around the actions going on. It’s as if, through the audiences perspective we see tragedy and brutality, but for the characters they see necessity or entertainment.
The film is brilliantly paced, very fast, with some excellent cinematographic choices. The pace and overall intensity of the film encourages you to keep involved, and despite the tough imagery in certain parts, it’s hard to look away.
I can’t seem to find much wrong with this film, and feel that it deserves 10 out of 10 for its courageous story matter and the confidence to not shy away from any details of, sadly, what many slums still are today.
Even if this doesn’t accurately portray life in certain slums, as a piece of art, this is brilliant.
Cross-posted with: Tecurious