City of God
- Fernando Meirelles
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Buscapé [Rocket] (Alexandre Rodrigues) is the young man around whom the story circles, and the narrator. Since his childhood, he dreamed of becoming a photographer, and never felt like joining crime. Other childhood mates took different paths. Young Dadinho [Li’l Dice] (Douglas Silva) had a thirst to kill since he was a kid, and later became Zé Pequeno [Li’l Zé] (Leandro Firmino da Hora), the fiercest hoodlum in town. His lifelong friend Bené (Philippe Haagensen) also joined the world of crime, but was always compassionate and sensitive, nothing like his partner. Zé Pequeno’s main rival is Cenoura [Carrot] (Matheus Nachtergaele), who’s got a good business thanks to his ability to stay cool. Mané Galinha [Knockout Ned] (Seu Jorge) is a good man who joins Cenoura looking for vengeance after Zé Pequeno screws up his life. Angélica (Alice Braga) is the girl of Buscapé’s dreams, who falls in love with Bené. And all these people really existed, some specifically, others in one way or another, but these stories are real, and, with the exception of famous Nachtergaele, the actors portraying these people are real people from the City of God, people who never acted before, but who knew what all this was about, because they’ve lived it. They couldn’t be more appropriate for their roles. It really feels like the real thing.
Director Fernando Meirelles crafted an uncanny masterpiece of realism and violence that couldn’t be cruder, but that’s what makes it so real. The humor of everyday life is perfectly blended with the hell of living in a place like this. Still people have dreams and motivations, even if they have to shoot somebody to save their own lives day by day. Some people simply lose scope, forget what life is about and think that their way of life is correct. But aren’t we all a little like that when we’re successful? Sense of humor is there all along the way. Life is like that, and this film never forgets that. There’s glamour, too. The nicknames add some punch, and Portuguese sounds cool. Eerily, sometimes this feels like a universe one would like to be in for a while. It’s that twisted accomplishment of cinema where one looks at hell with greedy eyes.
While Zé Pequeno is one of the biggest monsters ever seen on screen, he’s rather pathetic and sometimes really transmits sadness. His friend Bené is a charmer and a hero while being as much a criminal as his friend, but his nature makes a big difference. And everyone has little or much humanity, making this story often compelling, often unforgivable.
Cinematographically this is undoubtedly a gem. Every technical and artistic element is flawless, painting this world with colorful tints while it is so somber. Rhythmic samba music accompanies the action, helping the mood to make a terrible story seem pleasant. And how it works! The effect is doubly as tragic. There are as many shootings as there are laughs, and it seems to go on forever without being overlong. But that’s a good thing, because this is a world we enjoy. And one we’d never, in our right mind, like to see live.
Two unforgettable sequences are the punishment of two children, and the ending of Bené’s good-bye party. Both heart-wrenching, and they are only a couple examples. The latter is especially shocking for the way it’s photographed. You’ll never forget those flashing lights. Cinematographer César Charlone and editor Daniel Rezende work magic together at every frame.
Dynamic, potent, difficult to stomach, but worthy of high praise, City of God is one of history’s great films, and a must-see.
“Dadinho é o caralho... meu nome agora é Zé Pequeno, porra!”
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Other reviews of City of God (2002): Morris