City Of God


Directed by: Katia Lund, Fernando Meirelles
Written by:Braulio Mantovani
Starring: Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge, Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora
Released: March 13, 2003
Grade: A

It occurred to me that there’s an increasing number of foreign language films being released here in Brisbane.  Cinemas such as the Palace Centro and the Dendy are rewarding more discerning filmgoers with treats from all over the globe.  Later this month, the Centro is screening a range of unseen films as part of its French Film Festival.  So if you’re tiring of American culture, the opportunities are there to see something new.  Given I fit into this basket, I took the chance to see my first ever film from Brazil, City Of God.

The film begins in the late 1960s in a community outside of Rio De Janeiro known as the City of God.  It’s a housing project for the poor with tiny homes and few utilities.  Teenage gangs roam the streets day and night.  With nothing better to do, they steal from everyone and have established a roaring drug trade to generate power and money.

After establishing the characters, we move into the 1970s where the kids have become young adults but little else has changed.  A leader had emerged from the gangs, Lil’ Ze, and his influence had differing effects on this city.  Crime was down and people lived less in fear as no one dared go up against Lil’ Ze and his growing army of supporters.  Conversely, his rule was become something of a dictatorship and more and more people became disenchanted by his brutality.  He would slay meaningless people in the streets.  A rival group was building and a massive gang war was looming to reclaim control of the city…

Knowing nothing of its cast and crew, the film’s website provides a wealth of supporting information to this engrossing story.  City Of God is based on a true story and the actual city itself is still a troublesome area in Brazil.  In making the movie, duals directors Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles used actual people from the city who had never acted before.  Over 100 children were used in feature roles and they all became close friends thanks to the numerous acting workshops that were held to help them prepare.  Their closeness to the story, and the fact the film is shot in the actual town, heightens the realism.

Subtitles will guide you through the Portuguese dialect and take you into a world you never knew existed.  The film is narrated by one of it’s characters who speaks from the present looking back on the scary past with the thankful joy that he lived to tell the tale.  A common film technique is used where we are given a sneak peak of the end at the beginning and then look back to show the lead up to this point.  The directors wonderfully use this method and tease the audience with hints of events to follow in the story.

The film only took nine weeks to make and has now become the highest grossing film to emanate from Brazil.  It featured on the top 10 lists from a host of overseas critics last year and the film seemed a virtual shoe-in for the Oscar for foreign language features.  But given the Academy’s heavily criticised policy on only allowing a select few to vote in this category, the film was overlooked and an outcry soon followed.  I’d advise you not to follow their trend in passing over this violently entertaining marvel.