The City of God, also known as Cidade de Deus, is a real place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It also provides a poignant backdrop to directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s 2002 crime film of the same name. The film became a worldwide hit, both critically and commercially, and immediately put Rio’s City of God and Brazilian cinema on the world map. The film received four nominations from the Academy Awards and undying love from audiences around the world.
City of God is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Paulo Lins. It traces the beginnings of the poor neighborhood, founded to rehabilitate people who moved from Rio’s slums before the city was beautified. Government neglect, lack of education and jobs, poverty and easy access to weapons quickly turn the slum into a center of criminal activity.
It is the 1960s, when the descent of the City of God into chaos and anarchy began. We see the story from Buscapé’s point of view. He is one of the central characters, representing a part of the population in the area, caught between a rock and a hard place. You stay, you die. If you try to leave the neighborhood, you die. If you pick a gun, you die. You don’t pick a weapon, you die. A better life seems out of reach for the people of the area that seems to have left God. Death, it seems, is only one step away.
The neighborhood is ruled by baby-faced killers, as many don’t make it to their late 20s. Kids as young as five aspire to become gangsters. And they don’t want to indulge in petty criminal activity either, because they know that the fast way to the top is by targeting the man at the top.
A bunch of up-and-coming gangsters, all as young as 10, enjoy the loot of their loot. They have just robbed a neighborhood bakery and plan to take down Zé Pequeno, the drug lord who now runs the streets. Zé Pequeno aka Little Joe is another central character in the film. He started a life of crime at a young age and has murdered a number of people in cold blood, with a big grin on his face.
So Little Joe knows these young guys aren’t kidding about taking his place in the neighborhood. And it’s only a matter of time before they attack him. Little Joe therefore decides to teach boys a lesson. At first he just wants to scare the boys so they don’t rob people in his protection, but later he decides to scale up the intensity of the punishment. And that brings us to a very important scene in the movie where you pray that Little Joe won’t do any harm. After all, the guys just robbed some chickens and stale sandwiches. As we keep wishing, Little Joe keeps raising the stakes. It’s not just the horror of physical violence that shocks you to the core, but also the death of innocence. And a deep gash in the hearts and minds of young boys, who are pushed into a hole where it becomes impossible for them to crawl out.
But no murder in the City of God goes unpunished. Each death is the beginning of a new chapter of revenge and revenge, it is a cycle of never-ending violence.
The visual style of City of God is a combination of documentary and cinematic. The camera makes neurotic and frantic movements during the violence and creates a sense of urgency and makes it realistic. The frames get a little dreamy as characters talk about romance, ambition, and their plans to get out of the favela.
City of God will go down in cinema history as one of the most influential gangster films of the 21st century. We can also see the influences of this film in director Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai. The 2018 Tamil film about a beachfront ghetto that is neglected in favor of improving the lives of the people in the upscale areas of Chennai city.
City of God will be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.