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City Of God

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Director: Fernando Meirelles, Katia Lund
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani
Stars: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Matheus Nachtergaele, Philippe Haagensen , Seu Jorge, Johnathan Haagensen

Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) is a young boy born into the sadness and unending poverty of City Of God, a housing project favela in Rio’s de Janeiro.

In the favela desperation overtakes hope and the only work to be acquired is illegal and couched in violence. His older brother is a part of The Tender Trio, hoodlums who rob gas trucks and motels and one by one are taken down by corrupt Third World cops and the circumstances of the favela. Rocket’s growing years sees peers he played football in the dust with, turn from petty theft to giggling psychotic murderers.

Rocket, as a teenager, harbours ambitions of being a photographer. He isn’t made of the stuff that is required to become either a full blown gangster or even a petty criminal. However he somehow seems to be in the middle of the action in the favela, yet he also manages to exist outside of it.

Lil Z (Leandro de Hora), is an atypical child of the favela. He cannot read or write, and hopeless hunger warps his thinking and deadens his soul so significantly, all innocence burns away and he quickly turns to murder and drug dealing with maniacal and power hungry aplomb. He goes to a Candoumble priest to get protection and empowerment from Baba Exu (Esu/Eshu) and then proceeds to systematically wipe out all opposition to him taking over as drug overlord in the City of God. Lil Z’s career, fueled by his ruthlesness, eventually escalates into a full scale gang war in the streets of City of God.

Rocket and Lil Z are the same age, and their lives overlap throughout the story, often with hilarious and stomach churning episodes.

Rocket manages to acquire a camera, and although he prefers to take pictures of Angelica, who he hopes to lose his virginity with, he ends up taking pictures of the gangs as they pose with heavy artillery. These pictures come to the attention of a newspaper and launches his career.

Lilting camera work, clever angles and freeze shots; a weaving but brilliant storyline, this film is packed with both horrifying violence and uproarious funny moments. City of God is a frightening yet entertaining slice of life in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro. You get the sensation of a documentary, maybe because the majority of the cast are real favela dwellers, recruited from the streets to play roles in the film.

You watch as the actors run through streets with garbage piled high on both sides; watch as children commit violence without breaking a sweat. You can see this film is a mirror of real events, because a film with this kind of authenticity is rare.

As death ridden as this film is, as violent and scary, it is not without it’s measure of hope. Rocket sees his world differently, and his alternate view opens a road for him to pass through this violent environment unscathed and with a job many of the favela children have no hope of attaining. He gets to follow his dreams into a different life.

The director, Fernando Meirelles finds a way to humanise even Lil Z, whose complete lack of conscience and his stunted emotional development are two sides of the same coin. Meirelles’ marvellous eye for composition and his unrelenting exposure of a world most of us are fortunate enough never to encounter, make him an unsung hero and well deserving of accolades.The film is brilliant from beginning to end, and keeps the blood pumping.

Laughter at the main cast’s antics is quickly followed by stomach clenching moments, but at no point does the grittiness of this story let up. One of the best made films seen in recent times.

Based on a true story written by Paul Lin.

In Portuguese with English subtitles.

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  • No doubt about it, this film is one of the most authentic, non commercial films ever made about the silenced wars constantly raging in the peripheries of the big cities in Brazil (not so silent for us working in the midst of it all).
    I think a colleague of mine who works in Rio, Yvonne de Mello, wrote a rather appropriate comment about the situation in Brazil, commenting on the war in Iraq. Read for yourself!


    The photos of adults splattered in blood and of wounded children in Iraq, especially the boy without arms, remind us of Mi-Lai and the burnt girl who became a symbol of the atrocities of the wars that only satisfy the egos of the governments that provoke them. This war over the power of Iraqi oil diverted the attention of Brazilians, from the atrocities committed in our own city and our country.

    Yes! The newspapers headlines do transmit the war against drug trafficking and our pathetic combat against it, represented by harebrained and unintelligent declarations from so-called specialists in public security, whom seem more worried about government intrigues and blunders instead of the population.

    Blaming the cause on ill-prepared politicians, police and judiciary authorities, unable to deal with the urban violence, the number of victims of our war grows every day. In the poor communities, which are most affected by the violence, the number of people who’s moral and physical integrity has been damaged is really frightening. Some time ago there was a film scene showing hundreds of pairs of crutches being thrown from airplanes to those that had been injured or lost their legs in Afghanistan. We also need those crutches for the victims wounded by those well-aimed shots or so-called “stray” bullets, who find themselves disabled, thrown in a bed, without attendance, with a bullet lodged in their spine or some other vital muscle.

    We need tons of boxes of Gardenol for all those inhabitants who end up with convulsions when shantytowns are attacked by drug traffickers or the police, using that very same violence. One shot is enough to spark off the delirious shouts of children who have already seen their relatives or acquaintances not only hit by gunfire, but also torn apart or burnt alive in the entrance of their own homes. Even worse, are those youngsters on the verge of adolescence, who in loss of all common sense, are obliged to kill to be able to survive. The fear is printed in all their faces.

    The boot of a policeman breaking down the door of a house signifies extortion, violence and pain. A message from an outlaw to his family means death, torture and house arrest for undetermined time.

    The barbarity installed in our ghettos in reality differs nothing from others such as Warsaw. The bullet ridden or mutilated bodies are strewn in the filthy alleyways until somebody decides to ditch them in any old gutter to leave them to sink in the silt, only to be disregarded by all. Or scenes of human body parts being torn apart by the sharp teeth of pigs that are so fat they seem more like horses. They are people of all ages that have to live with the daily pain. They are our army of suffering people whose state of being finds no adequate remedy. Then there are the specialists with their diplomas, comfortably seated in their chairs, anonymous or pretending to not know of this reality.

    Adding to this is the hunger, the malnutrition of our children and the precocious death of our kids and young people.
    The result of it all are the children who do not learn and whose school discrepancy leads them into sub-employment, continuing their exclusion and increasing even more the distance between the social classes in this country. They are youngsters who don’t believe in a future because they are the forgotten ones rarely benefited by crippled or delayed public policy making which changes direction each time a new government is elected and needs to show results. They are adults without jobs who drown in alcoholism and marginality. Better to belong to the drug traffickers than to die of hunger.

    This is the hidden face of our war that nobody assumes as being his or her responsibility. But everyone seems unanimous in blaming the poor population as the guilty ones, either due to their lack of family planning or the excess of northeastern migrants. Here in our war we also exchange prisoners, we also traffic people whose price tag depends on who the buyer is. Ours is a cynical war where guns, grenades and other heavy weapons arrive every day, arming the cities and the fields to guarantee the status quo of this insane society. Scenes such as those from Iraq repeat themselves every day, just here, in front of our very noses. What a shame that our indignation is not so great and enthusiastic as that which we express concerning episodes arising beyond our borders. It is reasonable to think about the reconstruction of Iraq.
    But who will finance ours?

    By Yvonne Bezerra de Mello
    Child Rights Defender and President of the Project UERÊ,
    Rio de Janeiro – BRAZIL

    If you would like to follow our work rescuing street children from the likes of what you will see in the “City og God”, then please visit our Web Blog at: http://www.carfwebnet.blogspot.com
    You are most welcome to make an online donation on the Blog. THANKS!

    Gregory J. Smith
    Children At Risk Foundation – CARF

  • I loved this movie, The violence was very disturbing but the way it was shot was absolutely amazing.