Language : Portuguese
Director : Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Writers : Paulo Lins(novel) , Bráulio Mantovani(screenplay)
Cast : Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Zé Pequeno, Matheus Nachtergaele
Genre : Crime | Drama
Imdb: Cidade De Deus (2002)
Also Known as City of God (2002)
Streaming on Amazon Prime.
We all must have watched a multitude of gangster movies that are crammed with gun fights, killings and action, among them there are few idiosyncratic ones like Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ which deals with lower echelon mafioso. City of God is such an idiosyncratic film with more idiosyncrasy. The film does not deal with kingpins or dons or is not a total gangster film; it is a part tender coming-of-age and a part gangster film.
The film begins by capturing our attention from the first scene itself by implementing ‘in medias res’. From a unique start full of action, weapons and chase for a chicken and a comic introduction of the narrator caught in between a potential crossfire the film suddenly shifts to flashbacks telling us the story of Rocket and his entanglement with the gangsters. The story develops with the introduction of characters and events at random that will be consequential later.
First and foremost, along with the direction, screenplay, cinematography and editing, the cast is what has to be appreciated. All of the cast are inexperienced and they don’t feel untrained or amateur but only the opposite. The acting is something unprecedented and absolutely intense, the authenticity is inexplicable. There are scenes where it feels like the actors are not acting but living their life, it’s just very intense. One could say that the vast amount of characters and plots are very interesting and meticulously written to make it riveting and real and even somehow manages Cidade de Deus (an actual place based on which the film was shot, in Rio De Janerio, Brazil) to be a character caught in the circumstances.
The storytelling is smart, the narration and the technique used in the film by Fernando Meirelles is no other way to say it, brilliant. The narrative is coherent and very lucid even though it is crammed with events and characters. The great thing about Meirelles’s storytelling is that the film feels like a documentary, it is that real. I gotta say the subtlety in the cinematography and editing certainly plays a major part in providing a documentary feel but it’s Meirelles who implemented all this and he deserves the credit.
The screenplay by Bráulio Mantovani definitely makes the characters and plot great and as aforementioned, it is meticulous. But as with the case of all foreign films, the translations lose the essence and the nuances leaving only the actions to be comprehensively savourable. Nonetheless it’s very good. The introduction of characters and the backstories they have, the events that occur here and there and how they are made consequential, the conversations and the narration are all very sublime and increase the interest considerably.
César Charlone’s cinematography is a big factor in making the film great. The cinematography is distinctive with a combination of hand-held camera, dutch angle shots, bird’s-eye view etcetera and the efficacy of these are very high in creating uneasiness and tension throughout the film. I won’t say it’s subtle throughout and it does stand out at times but it’s amazing. The editing by Daniel Rezende is nothing but superlative and is prevalent in every scene. The cinematography and editing deserve separate articles!
City of God is a film that I could simply say as one of the greatest of all time. It is entertaining and provokes emotions and thoughts. One of the few that makes you feel like a part of it. In short I have never watched a gangster movie that felt very real and compelling. It is bloody brilliant!
Verdict – 7/7 stars
When we hear Buscapé (Alexandre Rodrigues) talking to Marina (Graziella Moretto) about how “he never took a hot bath”, that was not scripted. Actually, that was Rodrigues and Moretto talking off camera, during a pause in the shooting, when the boy (who lived on the slums) was telling her about his life.
Leandro Firmino (Zé Pequeno) really was from the City of God and had no ambitions to be an actor, he only went to the audition to keep his friend company.
All the amateur actors were recruited from “favelas” (slums) in Rio de Janeiro, and a couple of them–Buscapé/Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), for example–actually lived in the Cidade de Deus (City of God) itself.
The scene where the gang prays before the war was not scripted. During the shooting a young boy, who used to be in a real gang, asked director Fernando Meirelles if the group was not going to pray like they always did before any important confrontation with their enemies. Meirelles told him to lead the prayer as they shot the scene.
The film was not actually shot in Cidade de Deus slum, as it was too dangerous. It was shot in a neighboring, less dangerous area.
Fernando Meirelles wanted the cast to consist of people who had never acted before and professional actors who were not widely known. One such actor was Matheus Nachtergaele, whom Meirelles had seen in a play. While Meirelles was working on the script, however, Nachtergaele suddenly became a huge star in Brazil after starring in the hit film A Dog’s Will (2000). Meirelles was a little disappointed at first but Nachtergaele promised him that he would disappear into the role of Sandro Cenoura so completely that his stardom would not distract from the film. He actually moved to the real Cidade de Deus where most of the cast lived and lived there for three months to prepare for the role.