of God (Brazil/France/USA; 130min.)
directed by: Kátia Lund; Fernando Meirelles
starring: Matheus Nachtergaele; Seu Jorge; Alexandre Rodrigues
"This one is a toughie – not for the faint of heart. I know it’s the
curse of my generation to constantly draw comparisons, but stylistically
and thematically this film evokes AMORES
PERROS, plus PULP
FICTION and KIDS.
Perhaps not the most palatable combination for all audiences.
"This film is much more than you can describe in a few sentences. Issues including class, race, violence, drugs, power, political corruption are explored as they create the realities of life in an urban slum. The cinematography is excellent, equally capturing the the grit of the city and beauty of the Brazilian seacoast. One image that sticks in my mind is a juxtaposition of the two extremes: a blazing sun setting over the ironically named City of God favela (slum) in which most of the action occurs.
"The vast majority of the characters are young, teens or children, which makes their performances all the more impressive and the violence more difficult to watch. The protagonist, Rocket, proclaims himself a loser because he cannot stomach living a life of crime. He would love the money and the girls that come with that lifestyle but has experienced the overwhelmingly negative consequences through the short life of his hoodlum brother. Ultimately his dream is to become a photographer and leave the favela.
"Rocket is in sharp contrast to Lil’ Ze, who has reached the pinnacle of his power as the local druglord/gang leader at the age of eighteen. As Lil’ Ze’s story unfolds we see that his career of unrelenting violence and multiple murder starts at the age of ten (or thereabouts). Innocence is in very limited supply in the City of God and the cycle of violence constantly draws children in younger and younger.
"A bleak tale (based on true events), but one worth seeing. Strong performances and stylistic elements such as the aforementioned cinematography and great soundtrack keep the action moving along as the story unfolds and sprawls out with the introduction of new characters. I was interested to read that this was co-directed by a documentary filmmaker and a more commercial director. I think these two perspectives successfully transform the source material into an accomplished, complex final product. "
|Laura says: "A knife
is honed against a rock. Music fills the air. A barbecue grill sizzles.
A panicky chicken watches his brethren being plucked and makes a mad dash
for it. The beginning of the film is the beginning of the end of a three
decade history behind the breeding of drug lords who rule the Rio neighborhood
slum known as 'City of God.'
"Tyro director Fernando Meirelles's dazzling, multi-storied epic gives a wide-angle view of the same violent and hopeless life captured over two decades earlier in Hector Babenco's Sao Paolo microcosm, PIXOTE. Braulio Mantovani took on the daunting task of adapting Paul Lins' 700 page, 352 character novel and shaped it by focusing on the character of Rocket, an observant aspiring photographer not unlike the novel's author who acts as the film's narrator.
"The story is broken into three decades and further broken down, via title, into various story threads which loop forwards and backwards and cross over each other. In the 1960s, Cidade de Deus was a government housing area for the homeless on the non-tourist side of Rio de Janeiro's Sugar Loaf Mountain consisting of two room bungalows with no electricity and roads of red clay. A young Rocket (Luis Otavio) tells the tale of the Tender Trio, consisting of his older brother Goose (Renato de Souza), Clipper (Jefechander Suplino) and leader Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen). Not content with robbing gas trucks, Shaggy listens to Lil Dice (Douglas Silva), a kid with a plan for robbing a motel and an underlying, more heinous agenda.
"The 1970s find City of God growing upwards, its bungalows living in the shadows of multi-story buildings, its streets narrower. Lil Dice has grown up and renamed himself Lil Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora), an ugly ruthless drug dealer who kills off his competition but protects local shopkeepers from robbery. (Lil Ze's ascendence is brilliantly and economically told in a montage of scenes [edited by Daniel Rezende] which dissolve into and overlap one another titled 'The Apartment.') His best friend Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) is his unequal partner who becomes known as the 'coolest hood' in Ciudad de Deus. Benny, a 'make love, not war' type, decides to leave with girlfriend Angelica (Alice Braga) and his farewell blast breeds the events that will being Lil Ze's downfall in the early 1980s.
"The neighborhood is now crowded squalor connected by dense alleyways. Lil Ze has made a powerful enemy in Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge), a handsome, good man provoked over his girlfriend's refusal to dance with Lil Ze. Rape, murder and rampant destruction must be revenged, so Ned partners with Lil Ze's competition, Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele), and an all out war ensues. Rio's corrupt police keep the wrong man in power, but the runts, a ragtag group of heavily armed eight to ten year olds, have a score to settle with Lil Ze.
"Meirelles uses cinematic tricks and styles from films as disparate as THE MATRIX to Spike Lee's CLOCKERS to tell his tale. He shifts from one decade to the next in one 360 degree camera move. He stops for a character's mini-story RUN, LOLA, RUN style, before returning to his main action. Cinematographer Cesar Charlone's camera flies on a bullet's path or seemingly on the tail feathers of a terror-stricken chicken. Death comes between the strobe lights of a disco like the murder in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR. Gangs move herky-jerky through the streets in sped up fashion like a deadly serious version of LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS.
"Codirector Katia Lund was Meirelles's link to the real favelas of Rio and together they workshopped neighborhood kids for eight months to distill their cast. The results are incredible, the performances too myriad too mention. Art director Tule Peake attains three decades of the evolution of a district beginning with the red palette of dawn and sepia toned nostalgia and ending in the steely gray light of war-torn streets. Original music by Antonio Pinto and Ed Cortes also charts the eras. Mantovani's screenplay gets at the essence of how a 'life is cheap' mentality is created by a society which sweeps its unfortunates under the rug to foment their own pecking order. However, with so many stories being told, CITY OF GOD doesn't deliver on the emotional level of the superior PIXTOE. Still, it is an astounding debut for Meirelles, a director who clearly understands the art of collaborative filmmaking. And that chicken? You'll have to see the movie to learn his fate." 4 1/2 cats
Robin says: "Meirelles,
working with the adapted screenplay by Braulio Mantovani of the powerful
novel by Paulo Lins, takes us into a world rarely seen. Cidade de Deus,
a housing project for Rio's urban poor, was built by the government in
the 60's as a dumping ground for the city's troubled, violent youth. But,
as organized crime and drugs made inroads into the City of God, as it
was ironically dubbed, it became one of the most dangerous spots in the
country. It wasn't the state that made the laws ruling the City, it was
the teenage drug lords that ruled the turf, using violence and the threat
of instant death as their law.
"This is a remarkable and no small feat for Meirelles
and his cast and crew. The filmmakers decided to forego using professional
actors and they scoured the very area where CITY OF GOD takes place to
find the boys to play its characters. Starting with a cast call of over
800 kids from the favelas the makers took months to whittle the number
down to 400, then to 200 before the cameras ever began to roll. The careful
work to garner convincing performances from the young, amateur cast pays
off, giving the film a documentary-like, real feeling film that thrusts
the viewer in the midst of a world where life hangs on a whim.