City of God, based on a true story is the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Taxi Driver.
Brutally violent, jarring in its depictions, and beautifully made the film is a one of a kind experience that takes us into the slums just outside of Rio de Janeiro, where crime, drugs and violence is a way of life.
Set in the late 60s to mid-70s, the film Interweaves a number of tales that all affect one another, the main thrust of the film follows a young man, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), who is stuck in the slums, dreaming of becoming a photographer.
While every other young man around him is becoming a hood, Rocket tries to steer clear, looking to make his way honestly, but with terrors like Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino) intent on ruling the slum, violence, and bullets are becoming harder to avoid.
Li’l Ze is terrifying, he’s an egomaniac, with no social skills who takes what he wants and is unafraid to perpetrate acts of violence if it gives him what he wants at that moment. Firmino is legitimately frightening in his performance, and brings his character to life with a chilling reality.
As we learn the ins and outs of the slums, and its inhabitants, the groundwork is laid for almost everyone’s downfall, while Rocket just seeks a way to escape, well that, and wanting to meet a girl, and lose his virginity.
The camerawork is visceral, always in motion and keeping the viewer on edge, as violence can erupt at any minute, and it can come from anyone and anywhere. While that statement may not be revelatory, this film does do something that you generally don’t see in mainstream films – it portrays gun violence realistically, and it puts weapons in the hands of the young – just because you’re a kid, does not you are not going to die from a gun. Or carry one for that matter.
A completely stunning piece of work, City of God wows from its opening frames straight through to its final shot. A gritty, adrenaline-filled piece of work that drops the viewer smack dab into slums that are so close to resort beaches, but are worlds apart from what a lot of people know as life.
Rocket guides us through his world as best he cans, navigating terrors unlike any I had to grow up with, and works to find his place in the world.
City of God ends up being a fantastic film about the cycle of violence as well as those who create it and propagate it, and the striving, the need, and the goal to be something more.
A fantastic watch.