If the first few releases of 2003 is anything to goby, this year will be a strong one for movies.Cronenberg’s Spider, Curtis Hanson’s electric Eminenscreen debut 8 Mile, Scorcese’s epic historicaldocument Gangs of New York, and now City of God, aBrazillian Goodfellas, are all powerful films.
Indeed, it is possible to find many parallels betweenCity and Gangs. Both films trace the birth of ganglandwar and partition in their relative locations, Gangsin New York, and City of God in the same-named slumsuburb of Rio de Janeiro, an area where the police and politicians want toforget exists.
We trace the birth of the gang-wars from theperspective of Rocket, who decides that the life of agangster is not for him- he wants to pursuephotography. From a group of three ‘legendary’ friendsin the ’60s who start off performing petty crimes andending up on the run from the law accused of murder,their antics influence a whole generation.
Rocket,about 11 years old when we first see him, lives outhis teenage years through the ’70s, when we see him inthe midst of the beginnings of the drug gangs. Thesegangs eventually lead in the ’80s to shootings, revenge shootings, hold-upsand all out gun wars in the streets, all witnessed by Rocket and his camera.
It is a huge subject to tackle; a rich social tapestrythrough a period of 30 years. There are no well knownactors or actresses; indeed, most of the cast aretaken from the streets of this area and are more usedto dealing than dramatising. At over two and a halfhours long, the film could have gone wrong somewhere.
Yet I was completely spellbound from start to finish -director Meirelles has woven such a tight, beautifultapestry that the audience becomes totally entrancedin the hugely realistic atmosphere. The pace doesn’tlet up for a moment, and coming out of the cinema Ifelt educated about a society of which I had knownonly a little bit about.
Comparisons have been made with Amores Perros, theexcellent piece of Latin-American film-making. Butwhere Amores was more a fictional film, City of Godinstead tries to uncover a true history of theBrazillian drug cartels. A brilliant piece offilm making, in the truest sense of the word.