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As it dives into the tale of Rio de Janeiro’s slum gangs, “City of God” roils with furious intensity. It introduces Fernando Meirelles as a new filmmaker with great talents and passions while being simultaneously breath-taking and terrifying, intensely invested in its characters. Keep the moniker in mind. The movie has been compared to Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas,” and the parallel is appropriate. The opening narration of Scorsese’s movie stated that the narrator had always desired to be a gangster. The narrator of this film seems to have had no other option.
Rio built the neighborhoods where the movie is set to keep the underprivileged away from the city’s core. ye.commastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmastmas, and. In the picture’s opening virtuoso scene, a chicken escapes while a gang is having a picnic for its members. The storyteller, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), is one of those pursuing it. He abruptly finds himself between two armed lines: the gang on one side, the cops on the other.
As the camera whirls around him, the background changes and Rocket shrinks from a teenager into a small child, playing soccer in a housing complex outside Rio. He claims that in order to fully comprehend his tale, we must start at the beginning, when he and his companions first became the Tender Trio and started living lives that some would categorize as criminal activity and others as acts of survival.
The use of the whirling camera, the flashback, and the color change from the dark brightness of the slum to the dusty, sunny browns of the soccer field in that image alerts us to the presence of a film that is inventive and visually vibrant in a way that few others are.
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Meirelles’ career as a TV commercial director gave him a command of technique and, according to him, taught him how to work fast, measure up a shot, get it, and move on. He employs quick cuts and a portable, hand-held camera, working with cinematographer Cesar Charlone, to tell his tale with the urgency and attention to detail it merits. However, “City of God” feels like sight itself as we look here and there, with opportunity or danger lurking around every corner. Sometimes, these devices can make a movie that is simply busy.
Because they deal narcotics and carry out robberies, the gangs are well-funded and armed. However, they are not very wealthy because they only operate in the impoverished City of God. A truck hauling propane gas cans is robbed early on, and the thieves sell the cans to homeowners. Later, a bordello is raided, and the patrons have their purses taken from them. (In a flashback, we see that raid a second time, and understand in a chilling moment why there were dead bodies at a site where there was not supposed to be any killing.) We learn that poverty in the City of God has destroyed all societal structures, including the family, as Rocket recounts the history of the neighborhood he is so familiar with. Structure and rank are provided by the gangs. Even the gang leaders are often surprisingly youthful due to the high rate of gang deaths, and life is only valuable when you are taking it. A startling sequence occurs when a victorious gang leader is killed by the last person he would have anticipated and we realize that, in reality, it wasn’t a person who killed him but rather the criminal culture.
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The movie isn’t entirely gloomy and bloody, though. In the City of God, where there is a riot of life and ready-made characters with nicknames, personas, and trademarks, Rocket also catches some of the Dickensian flavor. Some people, like Benny (Phelipe Haagensen), have such magnetic personalities that they almost seem to defy convention. Some, like Knockout Ned and Lil Ze, develop from young children into ruthless leaders, their statements being enforced by death.
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The film is based on a book by Paulo Lins, who spent eight years writing his book after managing to flee the City of God where he had grown up. A note at the conclusion states that it is partially based on the story of Brazilian photographer Wilson Rodriguez. We observe as Rocket acquires a prized (stolen) camera and uses it to capture images from his privileged position as a young person on the streets. He is shocked to see his picture of an armed gang leader on the front page of the newspaper after getting a job as an assistant on a newspaper delivery truck and asking a photographer to develop his film.
He believes that this is his death sentence, but the gangs pose for pictures with their females and weapons because they are happy with the attention. He also witnesses the police killing a gangster during a bloody gang conflict, which they intend to pass off as a gang-related homicide. The fact that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the recently elected president of Brazil, actually reviewed and commended “City of God” as a necessary call for change suggests that these events throb with immediate truth.
About the quiz
“City of God” has less real violence than Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” but there are some similarities between the two movies. There are actually two cities in both movies: the city of the employed and secure, where law enforcement and other municipal services are provided, and the city of the castaways, where alliances are formed out of chance and desperation. Rarely are the tales of those who reside below recounted.
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“City of God” doesn’t exploit or belittle anyone, pump up its plots for manufactured effect, or include silly and comforting romantic sidebars; instead, it simply peers at what it knows with an ardently knowing eye.
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