Wrapping up the third week of the Ultimate 2000s Blogathon is Norman from Flick Hunter. If you haven’t been to Flick Hunter, you should give it a go and check out the myriad of movie reviews over there. He also is a frequenter of various film festivals and offer some great opinion pieces. For this blogathon, he brings a review of 2002’s Portuguese crime drama City of God.
Taking its title from one of the most dangerous favelas in the Western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro effectively voiced by Alexander Rodrigues as Rocket; City of God spans three decades from the end of the 60’s to the mid 80’s where residents are prisoners in their homes caught in violent battles between rival gangs. The original group the Tender Trio features Rockets brother Goose (Renato de Souza), Clipper (Jefchander Suplino) and the gentlemanly Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen) small-time hoods at targeting fuel trucks and motels. Entering into the ’70’s Their antics are quickly replaced by the very hardcore Lil Dice (Leandro Firmino de Hora) kindly Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) rivaled by Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele) and the former law-abiding Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge).
Rocket is at the centre of the piece. A childhood friend of Lil Dice he has a camera that is always by his side and as a local can get shots of the violent event as they occur in the favela while professionals are afraid to tread, can’t get access and even if they could, would not be trusted.
Co-Directors Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund take the story from the book by Paulo Lins who grew up in the favela. The narrative follows the main characters from when they are little kids, get their first guns in hands, commit their first crime then push the violence beyond the generation before. The champion of this is the above mentioned Li’l Ze aka Li’l Dice as a youth and due to his connection to Rocket allows him into their lair to photograph them with all of their firepower. Rockets photos are noticed by a newspaper photo editor where he delivers papers who publishes them. Rocket expects to be in grave danger for the reveal but instead, Li’l Ze and his crew buy up every copy cheering Rocket when they encounter him next.The co-directors keep the main themes of the devastating effects of poverty, class warfare, violence begetting violence close to the surface. As cinematographer Cesar Charlone inflects a sharp gold based colour plate for the production. Split screens feature heavily as a device of showing rival gangs committing crimes as the principals barrel along towards each other on a collision course. The directors set up an acting workshop for the locals which gives the film raw authentic energy alongside the basic fundamentals of acting leading to the exceptional performance of Firmino de Hora as Li’l Ze. He has the 1000 mile stare, crooked teeth, dark skin plus short man’s syndrome. His solution killing for fun, randomly and not getting attached to anyone or anything. The creators keep the dark humor coming in the 80’s the young up and coming crew know as The Runts who were mirrors of Ze to the Tender Trio back in the day but prepared to take things much further than the Ze/Benny and Knockout Nick battles of the 70’s as they rise to power towards the end of the piece as they lay out their death list in the infant stages of the Red Command.
City of God is a film about kids killing kids in an environment where no one in government or with influence cared. Rocket toward the start of his narration notes that there was no electricity or paved streets and the business Elite and Politician could not give a second thought to any of the problems there. It’s a fast-paced, ultra-violent gritty look into life in a favela based on real events that are more twisted and harrowing than anything that could be thought up in the word of fiction.
***** A Five Star Film
City of God | Fernando Meirelles / Katia Lund | Brazil / France | 2002 | 130 Minutes.
A huge thanks to Norman for joining us with a fantastic review.
You can see the list of the entries for the blogathon HERE.