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June 30, 2004

{     City of God     }    

cityofgod.jpg Iíll be honest with you. When it comes to cinema, I donít impress easy. My friends will back me up on this. Simply put, I can be a real prick. I don't care if everyone on the entire planet agrees that a movie is good, odds are that I'll still be standing there, arms crossed, bitching about something or other. At times I sympathize with those who have ventured to the theater with me, their good times quickly soured as I ruin their experience with sarcastic comments, bullshit criticisms, and rude gesturing (not to mention my secret weapon, the obnoxiously-loud sigh). I canít help it. Iím a movie snob (which is a more polite way of saying, ďIím kind of an assholeĒ). So when I tell you that Iíve been recommending this movie for over a year now, you shouldnít take that lightly. And now, with the long-delayed DVD release finally being upon us, I can finally shut the fuck up about how good this movie is and get back to being grumpy. Letís do this. What really stands out about this film when attempting to describe it is its unique structure. City of God is actually one story comprised of many different stories, all coming together to push the overall narrative. The best way to convey this is to think of City of God as a big bowl of cereal. Altogether, that shit is Lucky Charms, but individually, you got some rainbows, clovers, the ever-tasty purple horseshoes, and that nasty dog food shit.... Anyway, these stories span across several decades vividly capturing the poverty-stricken, crime-infested streets of the City of God, which is, in essence, the main character of the movie. This Rio de Janeiro slum serves as the playground/battleground for its residents, depending on which side they're on. Anarchy, crime and chaos are the dominant themes of life here, yet the stories unfold to brilliantly capture its residents in an effective manner adding such depth that you actually begin to feel that you know these characters. We meet a wide variety of people throughout the duration of this film, yet they all branch out from the City of Godís two favorite sons: Rocket, the aspiring photographer, and Lil Ze, the future crimelord of Rio. We view all the happenings swirling around as these two boys grow up together, weaving in and out of each otherís lives as they individually achieve notable success in their chosen fields. The ruthless Lil Ze (who easily squishes any Tarantino, Stone, or De Palma creation) serves as the driving force behind both the city and the film, as his criminal exploits define what it is to live in City of God, while naÔve Rocket serves as the flip side of this coin, acting to lighten the weight Ze often imposes on the overall mood of the film. I donít want to give away too much here, but this is one of best films youíll ever see as well as one of the rawest. There are some scenes in this film that will undoubtedly make an indelible mark on your brain. With the themes and imagery presented in this film, there is no way this project could have ever been made in the United States. Gus Van Santís Elephant, which raised such an uproar this year, looks like Willy Wonka in comparision. With this in mind, I found it surprising that City of God was named token-foreign-film-nomination-that-wonít-win at this yearís Academy Awards ceremony (for whatever thatís worth). While there are some incredibly violent moments in City of God, to focus solely on this aspect of the film is to miss its point, it just so happens that violence is an inescapable fact of life there. What City of God has is an underlying sense of hope in its characters, which gives the movie heart despite how fucked-up these peoples lives truly are and all the crazy shit they have to deal with on a daily basis. City of God also differentiates itself from other, more-exploitative works with its effective production techniques and its careful consideration to its characters. The majority of camerawork here is handheld, giving the film a lot of energy and tension, along with a kinetic soundtrack that effectively snakes in and out of the movie, much like the characters themselves. The editing is quick and choppy, mirroring that of early French New Wave and/or the works of Wong Kar Wai. The colors expressed in City of Godís imagery by Brazilians Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund (Iíd never heard of them either) are just as raw and gritty as the subjects contained within each shot. The way the stories are told from such a personal point of view make you really begin to feel these charactersí hardships. The fact that these people and events are real definitely serves to display each person in a more-human, more-sympathetic manner, as opposed to the cartoonish, over-the-top, gangstas-kicking-gangsta-shit, fictional characters in similar films (Tony Montana, Menace to Societyís O-Dogg). Granted, this isn't your typical dinner-and-a-movie fare (nothing makes a date turn sour like the sight of a 6-year-old shooting a 4-year-old in the face), but I guess that's why Meg Ryan isn't in it. I seriously can't recommend this film enough. Hop to it, fuckface.

     » The Official City of God Website


though I could do without the introductory and conclusive paragraphs ( they seem less film snobbish and more common ), I think the actual body describes City of God quite perfectly. I especially like your use of the word 'raw' in describing it, as that word came to mind while I was watching.

Posted by: typesbad at June 30, 2004 10:22 PM

hi, i enjoyed reading your article. city of god is indeed an outstanding film. however, while watching it i linked it more to cinema novo... not entirely leaning toward the idea of third cinema but still... i felt it had the spirit of "an esthetic of hunger."

Posted by: telenovela at July 1, 2004 7:54 AM

Outstanding point, telenovela. I would say City of God is a very good example of modern cinema novo, at least one readily seen in the Northern Hemisphere (where any Latin America cinema rarely sees the light of day, as it seems that America still likes its foreigners to be white). Granted, I don't find it to be so overtly "tropicalist" as many other Cinema Novo works (MacunaŪma), an authentic Brazilian expression of identity analyzing class relations and urban politics is both at the heart of City of God and the key to cinema novo. What makes City of God's situation somewhat, but not entirely, unique is its embrace by the Hollywood community, the same community Cinema Novo and its distant sister French New Wave both rebelled against years earlier. The success of City of God, as well as its big budget partnership with Miramax, should not take away from the fact that its a hardhitting Brazilian social commentary with well-established roots in Brazilian film culture.

Posted by: Eric at July 1, 2004 3:22 PM

true that, very well stated. it's tough to get away from hollywood and its conditioning... the impact images have in shaping people, creating imaginaries... then that spirit of hunger and garbage... the gritty violence in city of god keeps us from wanting to romanticize it. the third world looks scary when it's not dressed up in folklore. yet, at the same time the film has the ability to just grab us... we like rocket, we want him to live, he's the good one (i agree the characters are more-human versus hollywood's over the top stereotypes)and lil ze reminds us of ivan from the harder they come... ok that's just me. anyway, before i go on let me stop. again, i enjoyed the article... all this makes me want to buy the dvd now. what a sucka...

Posted by: telenovela at July 3, 2004 7:45 AM
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