Today’s film is City of God, a crime saga based on actual events that occurred in the Brazilian favela of the same name.
Though the film can be graphic at times, it doesn’t try to make the subject matter grittier or darker than it is. The film sets out to present its story through the lens of realism, and is absolutely captured by the filmmakers. The near-documentary level of authenticity creates a run-down world that is all at once fascinating and heartbreaking. Every single frame of the film makes a compelling statement about the poverty that has plagued the overcrowded favelas.
City of God takes us through the lives and histories of the residents of this favela, and how their lives intersect during a period of rampant crime and violence. Generally, I am not a big fan of these types of movies, as I believe that the characters are not given enough time for the audience to invest in their stories. However, City of God gives each character enough focus so that we feel a significant connection to each one, even if we don’t agree with their choices. The story starts off with Rocket, his brother Goose, Goose’s gang, and young gangsters Benny and Dice. Though the film is not always about Rocket, it is Rocket’s story to tell. Rather than explaining the history of this sunburned favela, the story takes us into the history of their young characters. Right away we understand that crime is almost necessary to survive in this town that doesn’t even have electricity. And keep in mind, this is the 1960s.
Soon, crime moves from being a necessity to being a display of power, and a fuel for greed. We see young Dice get a taste of this power and eventually consume him, as he performs an act so malicious it forever shapes the person he will grow up to become. Dice’s story, as he becomes Lil Ze, is the one that actually connects all the characters together, and with good reason. Lil Ze doesn’t want to leave the favela and search for better opportunity, like most of the other characters. Lil Ze wants to control the favela.
The necessity to survive is the one recurring theme with each character, but each character has their own idea of survival. For Benny, it’s living on the beach and relaxing to rock music all day. For Lil Ze, it’s making sure he is never underestimated the way he was when he was a young hood. For Rocket, it’s escaping the city that has exposed him to events that he never wants to experience again. Almost every character in the film resorts to crime or violence, and by the time the film has ended, we understand why. In order to survive in the City of God, our characters must choose a path. Wether that path is deeper into a life of crime, or an escape out, they may each be just as dangerous.
City of God (2002) Dir. Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
*The version I watched on Netflix seemed to suffer from some minor translation errors, including the subtitles showing “Lil Ze” as “Lil ZAC” so be warned.