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Cidade de Deus (City of God) October 12, 2006

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Portugese, Reviews.

This Brazilian film (the spoken language is Portugese) is inspired from real life events that took place in the sixties and seventies in Rio De Janeiro (and the black and white TV footage in the movie is apparently real). This ranks close to the top in my list of favorite foreign films so far. If I had to select three of my favorite gangster movies, this would definitely make it. After Goodfellas, this movie is one where I got a real feel for the life of the people in the mob.

The movie tells you the story of diverse characters in the slums of Cidade de Deus (which translates to City of God). Cidade de Deus is the name of a favela (slum) located in the district of Jacarepaguá, west zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (source: Wikipedia). The two primary characters are Rocket (who is the narrator) and Li’l Zé and the movie tracks the changes in their lives over many years as also the changing hierarchy of the mob in the City. It is amazing how well this movie captures the desensitization of society (at least part of it) to violence.

The screenplay by Bráulio Mantovani is adapted from a novel of the same name by Paulo Lins. Mantovani does a superlative job with the writing of this complex but taut film. Fernando Meirelles (who also made The Constant Gardner in 2005) does an exceptional job with the direction (Kátia Lund gets credit as co-director). The standout narration takes the movie far above its story and characters. The beautiful shots and framing in the movie are second to none. Cinematography (César Charlone), editing (Daniel Rezende) and other technical aspects too are top class. Meirelles and his crew make you realise that there is so much untapped brilliance in the non-English speaking world. I was happy to see that this movie was nominated for 4 Oscars in 2004 (though it was originally released in 2002) including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (It was Brazil’s entry for Best Foreign Film in 2003 and was, inexplicably, not nominated).

Among the cast Alexandre Rodrigues (Rocket), Leandro Firmino (Li’L Zé), Phellipe Haagensen (Benny) are notable. The young actors, who were apparently picked up from slums in Rio De Janeiro (according to IMDB), are short on experience but it doesn’t show much on the screen. I couldn’t really believe that most members of the cast aren’t professional actors. The convincing portrayals by these actors definitely helps the movie.

This movie had a strange effect on me. Though I was never bored for a second during its entire length, I felt like I had watched an epic saga spanning many hours due to the number of lives it tracks (successfully, I might add). I am generally not a person who vividly remembers every film. However, this film struck such an indelible impression that I could remember almost every scene for days after. Even today, I have haunting memories of this captivating film.

I feel that this movie works for most people. Those looking for a story will be satisfied. Those looking for a fast-paced movie will be satisfied. Those looking for ambience and characters will be satisfied. Critics and audience alike will be wowed by this movie. This is a shocking, violent, realistic film and not an escapist flick. Those looking for conventional entertainment should keep away. I should also warn you that the numerous characters and complicated screenplay need rapt attention and might put off some viewers (but believe me, it is totally worth it). If you enjoy movies about the mob or good movies in general, this is one that you don’t want to miss!