City of God

“If Amores perros is the Mexican Pulp Fiction, then City of God is the Brazilian GoodFellas…. The comparison isn’t unapt, for Fernando Meirelles’ brilliant second feature has the epic sweep of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. Ranging over three decades of gang warfare in the ironically named real-life favela or slum city outside Rio de Janeiro, it boasts a huge cast of non-professional actors (trained at a performance school on site) and whittles down the hundreds of characters in its source novel by Paulo Lins to a still-bewildering juvenile horde….

The quick cutting of the first scene (a blade sharpened, a drum beaten, a chicken careering through the slums) announces bravura film-making. The handheld cameras rarely rest. We’re treated to slow and fast motion, expressionist coloured filters, even Matrix-style circling around combatants. The sequences set in the 1970s break into split screen. The image is degraded and saturated, in the style of Amores perros: shiny black skin gleams in the dark as the young rebels hide out in damp trees; the taste of the tropics has rarely been felt as viscerally as it is here. Meirelles also stages huge set-pieces with unerring aplomb. At Bené’s farewell party, where all musical styles are welcome (guests even get down to ‘Kung Fu Fighting’), pleasure slides into horror as carnage breaks out to the jerky rhythm of a strobe.

The final credits have a new twist. Documentary video footage replays a scene we’ve just seen acted out for us. The contrast shows both the brilliance of the film’s recreation of reality and the intractability of the problems it treats. The real-life City of God remained too dangerous for the film-makers to shoot in (they used neighbouring slums, marginally safer). But this marvellous film still testifies to the awesome creativity of Brazil’s underclass.” – Paul Julian Smith, Sight and Sound

  • Country Brazil
  • Language In Portuguese with English subtitles
  • Rating R
  • Year 2002
  • Running Time 130 minutes
  • Director Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund

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