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aka - Cidade de Deus
Brazil/France 2002
Directed by
Fernando Meirelles
135 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

City Of God

Synopsis: Cicade De Deus is a slum area on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, notorious for its drugs and gang violence. We meet Rocket as boy in the 1960s and follow his experiences through to the 80s.

City Of God has justifiably been compared to Goodfellas. Both are about a sub-culture of hoodlums and both are based on first-hand experience. Stylistically they differ greatly – Meirelles’ film uses largely untrained actors, kids from the Cidade De Deus itself, and with its extensive hand-held camera work and fast-paced editing, is much rawer. 

Whilst based on the realities of Rio De Janeiro's slums, as a story about a bunch of youths (and children), whose lives, to paraphrase a line in the film, are about killing other people to take over their drug businesses in order to buy guns to kill more people in order to take over their drug businesses, etc., etc. and this is of limited interest. Hustling and killing is pretty much, minor diversions aside, what we see for two hours. Although this is much more about a social tragedy than an unconventional career path, as it was in Scorsese’s film, and therefore much more worthy of our attention, the problem with it is that there is little characterisation or dramatic development.

With the exception of Rocket, the nice boy narrator, and sociopathic L’il Ze, all the characters are pretty much interchangeable. They kill and, usually, get killed. Even Knockout Ned, a character who initially stands outside the gang culture, quite easily becomes incorporated into it. And between the characters little occurs. In part this is the typical effect of having a voice-over narrator. Events are simply recounted, they are not motivated by on-screen dynamics.

City Of God opens with a sequence with chickens being cut-up for the pot. Knives are being sharpened and throats cuts whilst party-goers dance. Whilst it’s a perhaps a pity that it does not sustain this level of artistry, on the other hand, the nevertheless high level of artistry that it does sustain distances us too far from the sordid reality on which it is based.




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