City Of God

UK release date: 17 January 2003

cast list
Alexandre Rodrigues
Matheus Nachtergaele
Alice Braga
Seu Jorge
Leandro Firmino da Hora

directed by
Fernando Meirelles
Katia Lund

If the first few releases of 2003 is anything to go by, this year will be a strong one for movies. David Cronenberg’s Spider, Curtis Hanson’s electric Eminem screen debut 8 Mile, Scorcese’s epic historical document Gangs Of New York, and now City Of God, a Brazilian Goodfellas, are all powerful films.

Indeed, it is possible to find many parallels between City and Gangs. Both films trace the birth of gangland war and partition in their relative locations, Gangs Of New York, and City of God in the same-named slum suburb of Rio de Janeiro, an area where the police and politicians want to forget exists.

We trace the birth of the gang-wars from the perspective of Rocket, who decides that the life of a gangster is not for him- he wants to pursue photography. From a group of three ‘legendary’ friends in the ’60s who start off performing petty crimes and ending 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 out his teenage years through the ’70s, when we see him in the midst of the beginnings of the drug gangs. These gangs eventually lead in the ’80s to shootings, revenge shootings, hold-ups and all out gun wars in the streets, all witnessed by Rocket and his camera.

It is a huge subject to tackle; a rich social tapestry through a period of 30 years. There are no well known actors or actresses; indeed, most of the cast are taken from the streets of this area and are more used to dealing than dramatising. At over two and a half hours long, the film could have gone wrong somewhere.

Yet I was completely spellbound from start to finish – director Meirelles has woven such a tight, beautiful tapestry that the audience becomes totally entranced in the hugely realistic atmosphere. The pace doesn’t let up for a moment, and coming out of the cinema I felt educated about a society of which I had known only a little bit about.

Comparisons have been made with Amores Perros, the excellent piece of Latin-American film-making. But where Amores was more a fictional film, City Of God instead tries to uncover a true history of the Brazilian drug cartels. A brilliant piece of film making, in the truest sense of the word.

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