"Listen man, I smoke, I snort... I've robbed, I've killed...
I ain't no kid, no way. I'm a real man."
Title: Cidade de Deus
English Title: City of God
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani / Paulo Lins (original novel)
Character name is followed by the nickname used in the English subtitles in brackets. This is how I will refer to them from now on.
Alexandre Rodrigues - Buscape (Rocket)
Leandro Firmino da Hora - Ze Pequeno (L'il Zé)
Douglas Silva - Dadinho (L'il Dice)
Philippe Haagensen - Bene (Benny)
Matheus Nachtergaele - Sandro Cenoura (Carrot)
Jonathan Haagensen - Cabeleira (Shaggy)
Alice Braga - Angélica
And a handful of completely flawless performances from kids of the favela, it seems pointless to list them all.
Be careful, spoilers ahead
Based on the book of the same name, which is itself at least partly autobiographical, City of God is a film about a place. The whole thing is played out from the perspective of Rocket, a young boy in the 60-70s who has ambitions of being a photographer, but this is not his film, it is the story of the slums of Rio, the favela known as the City of God and the drug wars that took over the area in the 70s.
We follow the stories of increasing levels of violence and drugs in the favela through a series of short sections, relating to a specific person/event. We start in the 60s, with Rocket still a young boy and the tale of the Tender Trio, three slightly older boys making their way into crime by stealing from a gas van and being lead into a Motel robbery by L'il Dice, a psychotic young boy who, unbeknownst to the others, shoots everyone in the motel.
We are next lead kicking and screaming into the 70s. L'il Dice renames himself L'il Zé, and takes over every drug racket in the area, by shooting the current racketeers, except Carrot's, as Carrot is a friend of Benny's, himself a (the only?) friend of L'il Zé. We are shown Rocket's failed attempts at losing his virginity to Angélica, her subsequent relationship with Benny and Benny's death at his own leaving party. Over time, L'il Zé becomes more and more hungry for power and a full-scale war breaks out between his gang and Carrot's. Aided by sharp shooter Knockout Ned (whose peaceful outlook is lost after L'il Zé rapes his girlfriend), Carrot's gang start to put pressure on L'il Zé, before a full scale battle erupts - leading to the arrest of both Carrot and L'il Zé. L'il Zé is released by the corrupt police force only to face death at the hands of a group of young children he had earlier terrorised.
During all this, Rocket, who's life has gone on without major misdemenours, becomes the official photographer for L'il Zé's gang and realises his ambition of working for a newspaper, while also losing his virginity to one of the journalists.
Mindblowing. Seriously. South American films are on a bit of a high at the moment, what with last years Y Tu Mamá También from Mexico and the Argentinian Nine Queens, but this is the best yet.
Fernando Meirelles picked most of these kids off the streets of an actual favela and set up workshops and improvisation sessions to pick out the ones he wanted to use. The results are staggering, with Matheus Nachtergaele being pretty much the only professional actor involved and also being almost the worst thing on display (and this is meant in no way to belittle his performance, as he is also excellent). The performances are so real and so full of passion that it is impossible not to be moved by some of it.
From the opening scene of chicken-plucking, gutting and capturing leading to a stand-off (including Matrix style bullet time), through the story of the drug wars in the 70s and finally to the blood soaked final gun battle, every part of City of God is pretty much perfect. There are moments of completely spellbinding cinema, ranging from a young boy having to choose whether to be shot in the hand or the foot (surely one of the most moving moments in movie history) to an absolutely inspired scene at Benny's leaving do, where L'il Zé becomes increasingly tense, having no idea how to act without shoving his gun at every one in sight, before exploding in a pointless act of rage - ultimately leading to Benny's death.
The film includes some highly inventive editing, clearly inspired by the Wachowski's, Tarantino and even Aronofsky's work in the likes of Requiem for a Dream, but, while nice, this is not really the point of City of God. Having said that, at no point do the split screens / speedups / bullet time distract one from the point at hand - the great story and incredible performances.
Run, don't walk, to your nearest cinema now. (Actually don't, but only because this masterpiece will almost certainly not be showing - you'll probably have to see Men in Black 2 or something).
the non-brazilian imdb.com