City of God

You might want to wait until you’ve seen City of God before planning your vacation in Rio de Janeiro.

This gritty reality-based film shows the audience a side of Rio that is far removed from the soccer playing, bikini-clad, post-card paradise normally presented to the world. Picture the hardest slums and projects in North America. Now make them poorer, with more drugs, more guns, younger gangsters, and less police. Add the heat of the Brazilian climate and you have Cidade de Deus, the City of God.

Loosely broken up into three periods–the late 1960s, the 1970s, and the early 1980s–the look and feel of the film changes along with the wardrobes, the growth of the characters and the housing project. Although there are many characters whose stories intertwine throughout the film, the main threads are the young lives of Rocket and Lil’ Dice. Rocket, played brilliantly by Alexandre Rodrigues, is just another kid in the slum, although his older brother is a noted hoodlum. He is the film’s narrator, and the events of the film seem to happen to him, not because of him–somewhat fitting, as his dream is to become a photographer. Rodrigues captures the character with brutal honesty, conveying a young man who is ambitious but lacks confidence, and who is often powerless as the current of events sweeps him along.

As a contrast to Rocket’s innocent ambitions, Lil’ Dice, played by Leandro Firmino da Hora, quickly realizes that he can be much bigger than the small-time hoodlums idolized by the other children, and becomes one of the biggest gangsters in Rio, changing his name to Lil’ Ze in the process. da Hora is top-notch as the sometimes-sympathetic villian of the film, giving subtlety and texture to a part which could easily have been one-dimensional.

City of God is by far the best Portuguese-language film I have ever seen and it stands up well against any film. The cast of domestic Brazilian actors delivers a high-calibre performance; the screenplay, adapted from an autobiographical novel, is well written; and the technical aspects of the film shine.

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