City of God (2002)
March 3, 2018 9:02 PM - Subscribe

Two boys growing up in a violent neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro take different paths: one becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer.

The Dissolve: Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s City Of God begins with a clear metaphor laying out the movie’s central spine: At an outdoor barbecue in an infamous Rio de Janeiro slum, a chicken watches as other birds are killed, plucked, chopped into bite-sized tidbits, and seared over a fire. The chicken promptly loosens the tether securing it, and bolts for freedom, with a growing gang of excited pursuers trying to run it down or shoot it. The escape attempt seems awfully self-aware for a chicken outside of a Nick Park animated movie, but that’s because the animal is just a stand-in for the film’s narrator, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues). Like the chicken, he’s watched his own kind get killed all around him, and he’s seen that the only way to survive is to get out entirely. And like the chicken, he’s increasingly frantic as death seems to close in.

Roger Ebert: As the camera whirls around him, the background changes and Rocket shrinks from a teenager into a small boy, playing soccer in a housing development outside Rio. To understand his story, he says, we have to go back to the beginning, when he and his friends formed the Tender Trio and began their lives of what some would call crime and others would call survival.

The technique of that shot--the whirling camera, the flashback, the change in colors from the dark brightness of the slum to the dusty sunny browns of the soccer field--alert us to a movie that is visually alive and inventive as few films are.

Entertainment Weekly: ”City of God” moves in where even cops fear to tread, embracing the mess, misery, and violence with a matter-of-factness at once riveting and disconcertingly MTV-cool. As in Paulo Lins’ novel, on which it’s based, the central character and narrator in Bráulio Mantovani’s ”GoodFellas”-tough screenplay is Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), straight from the projects. The younger brother of one of the area’s ’60s gang leaders (many of whom have flannel-pajama-soft nicknames like Stringy, Shaggy, Melonhead, Goose, or Carrot), Rocket observes the action rather than participates in it — but the action unfolds around him plentifully, 24/7. (Lins grew up to become a writer; a kind of alter ego, Rocket grows up to become a news photographer.)

WaPo: What is interesting is gangsters. The first law of gangster thermodynamics states that Gangsters Are Always Interesting, and the movie bears this out. These aren't gangsters like Scorsese's stovepipe-hat-wearing hooligans with their spiked curling clubs, and they're not Hollywood tommygunners named Scarface or Rico or Don Corleone. They're not a later generation's gangsta-rapsters with Berettas held sideways. No, they're, well, they're kids -- scruffy, dirty, scampering around on the dusty play-fields and squalid alleys, their body language expressing the weightlessness of their thin bones and scrawny chests, their clothes just any old rags, their feet bare or sporting flip-flops. You see them everywhere, but they don't carry guns everywhere. They carry guns only in the City of God.

The Atlantic: But while the themes of the movie--the inescapability of poverty, the loss of innocence, the endless cycle of violence--are heavy, the direction is anything but. Meirelles is an extraordinarily stylish filmmaker, who employs dizzying camerawork, a raucous soundtrack, split screens, and a considerable dose of dark humor to keep City of God moving at a heady, intoxicating pace. Like Amélie, the film is an exercise in discursive, conversational storytelling in which the introduction of each new character mandates a quick digression into his past or future. (Unlike Amélie, most of these digressions involve killing, dying, or both.) The cast is a marvel: Meirelles and co-director Katia Lund founded an acting school to train kids from the slums of Rio, and the results are remarkable. Nonprofessional actors often convey authenticity but can't really act. Meirelles and Lund's players do both. Of particular note is Leandro Firmino da Hora, whose Li'l Ze is one of the most indelible villains in recent cinema, a short, crooked-toothed kingpin who alternates violently between teenage petulance and teenage bravado.


Full movie streaming on Netflix

City of God Documentary Catches Up With the Film's Stars: City of God 10 Years Later

How we made City of God

City of God, Ten Years On

NPR Podcast: City of God 15 Years Later
posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One of the most moving films I've ever seen. Rocket's journey is truly epic.
posted by Sphinx at 9:26 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not gonna lie, I thought based on the poster this was some kind of movie about interracial romance. And I guess it is, in a very oblique way.


I'm pretty sure thats a nickname for the cops, btw. Who are shown in the 60s wearing helmets like they just wrapped up invading Normandy.
posted by pwnguin at 6:56 PM on August 6, 2023

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