City of God Review
The film hits the ground running with a dizzying chicken chase through the favella; our main character, Rocket (Matheus Nachtergaele), suddenly finds himself in front of the fugitive chicken. As he’s about to catch it, a whole gang of youngsters armed to the teeth emerge from a nearby street and ready themselves to open fire on him. Feeling his final day has arrived, Rocket’s mind trips into a time-warp dragging us all back 20-something years to the sun-drenched tones of the sixties. Rocket, now a young kid, starts telling us the story of his life. Back then the sole gang he knew were the Tender Three, amateurish in the extreme yet able to run circles round the police. They also had some level of respect in the local community thanks to some Robin Hood style heists. However, on the advice of a small kid, L’il Dice (Leandro Firmino da Hora), they plan what they hope will be their most successful hold-up ever in a nearby motel used by rich city dwellers to carry out their extra-marital affairs. But are they about to bite off more than they can chew?
The City of God was one of the largest of the slums that surrounded the Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro and worked as an open-air prison of sorts with few escaping from it via social ascension. Based on Paulo Lins life-story (on whom Rocket is based), City of God is in many ways a mix of genres (thriller, coming of age, crime, drama) but has a remarkable cohesion thanks to it’s focus on the characters rather than cheap technical thrills. Using a narrative structure not too dissimilar to Amores Perros, City of God however manages to cleverly change it by using a conventional linear narration which allows the narrator to go off on tangents, with minor characters suddenly coming to the forefront then disappearing back into the human jungle. The story buzzes with a passion and intensity much akin to Scorcese at his best but keeps itself firmly rooted in the South American filmmaking school. The cast’s performance is virtually flawless thanks to the directors’ insistence on natural performances whilst, visually, the cinematography makes great use of energetic hand held camerawork along with some creative use of split-screens and period related filters. The editing is mostly sharp and rapid but also gives us some long shots to allow the film to breathe adequately.
Glossing over the violence would have been untrue to the setting of the story but the directors (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund) manage to avoid the common trap of glamorising the violence that gang warfare engenders. The film contains some deeply disturbing depictions of violence and some truly upsetting scenes that leave you with no doubt that what you’re seeing is neither cool or sexy but very much a horrible reality that millions of people experience daily. Without doubt an outstanding story of the forgotten of Brazil and simultaneously compelling viewing and a near-perfect film. The first must-see film of the year…