Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele, Leandro Firmino
Director: Fernando Mereilles
Running Time: 130 mins
City Of God (Cidade de Deus) is a Brazilian film that follows the lives of young boys growing up in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent slums, where one becomes a journalistic photographer, and the other a drug dealing crime lord, creating a full scale war within the City of God.
Well, this film really made me speechless. It’s the most genius composition of horrific crime and fascinating social commentary, pulled together by some stunning performances, incredible directing and cinematography, and a memorable and fitting score.
And I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start with this film, because everything about it was brilliant. However, what I thought was the best part of this film was its gritty realism. Set amidst a true historical context, there was a perfect opportunity for this film to show the horrors of life amongst the brutal gang warfare in Brazilian slums, and it took it right on board.
From start to finish, the representation of the City of God and its inhabitants is not at all dark, nor particularly abstract, but is purely accurate regarding the seemingly impossible nature of life within the slums, which helps it to touch upon a point that is still relevant all over the world nowadays, and that made it so realistic and fascinating to watch.
The cinematography and directing was also spectacularly successful in capturing the nature of life within the slums. Along with simple close-ups of very bloody corpses in harrowing situations, there’s a blend of vibrant light and grungy imagery that creates an even more realistic representation of the slums.
Also, the fact that a great deal of this film is shot, almost documentary-style, in shaky cam. Interestingly, as the story unfolds, and the war becomes messier and more dangerous, you get more shaky cam, not only bringing you closer to the action, but perfectly emulating the chaos of the story unfolding before your eyes.
The score was another brilliant touch. It plays on similar elements to the cinematography and directing, with chaotic but beautiful noises all blended together to make a totally unique and forever memorable sound to go with this film, the cherry on the top of the cake.
And then, there’s the two stunning central performances. The two young kids, who we follow grow up into vastly different characters, despite their identical backgrounds, are thrilling and intriguing to follow along.
Firstly, the performance by Alexandre Rodrigues as Rocket, the film’s narrator, was brilliant. He captured the spirit of the character who, although evidently not perfect having grown up in a crime-ridden neighbourhood, is at heart good and strong-willed when it comes to his passion of photographing the gang wars. He’s the person that really pulls you into this film, representing an independent and outside view of the conflict, while also being the only person who you can really trust to be good amidst the horror of the war.
Finally, Leandro Firmino as Li’l Zé, the principal drug dealing crime lord, was incredible. Although the actor playing the younger Zé was extremely terrifying, Firmino pulled off one of the most harrowing, scary and fascinating characters I’ve ever seen. Li’l Zé is seen to be a complete obsessive with power, and will do everything, no matter how immoral, to get what he wants, and it’s that horrifying nature that plays perfectly at the centre of what is a horrific setting.
Overall, this gets a 9.7, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of all time.