City Of God


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

City Of God
"This is a big, rambling story which sometimes hits and sometimes misses, but which is overall well worth going to see."

There's been an awful lot of hype about this film, and of course it doesn't altogether live up to that, but that's not to say it isn't worth watching, and it has moments of real brilliance. Referring to it as 'the Brazilian Goodfellas' really doesn't do it justice.

Based on real events, it recounts the rise and fall of hoodlum Lil' Zé within the Rio housing project known as the City of God, and is seen through the eyes of a boy determined to avoid getting sucked into the violence which surrounds him, a boy whose ambition is to become a photographer. The book from which this film was adapted introduces a new character on almost every page, presenting the scriptwriters with a daunting task which they manage to pull off very effectively. Not every character works, so that the film does drag a bit from time to time, but it's surprising how many stick in one's mind, and there are a whole host of really good performances here, many of them from young kids who've never acted before.

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The absence of affected performances helps the film maintain a sense of realism even while the events which it recounts are extreme. This is assisted by the intervention of mundane concerns - in between gun battles, parents urge their children to get proper jobs, hippies dream about going off to live on farms, and our hero tries despondently to lose his virginity. Small children announce that they're going off to play with their friends before joining the gangs which gun each other down in the street.

Much of the strength of City Of God comes from the genuinely shocking nature of its subject matter; few films (able to find funding) ever dare to tackle the relationship between poverty and crime so boldly, and the age of the protagonists here, though realistic in context, is all the more disturbing to those fortunate enough to live more sheltered lives. Because of this, the film manages to express the ugliness and pointlessness of violence in a way which Hollywood gangster flicks rarely do. This is supported by some dazzling bits of camerawork, the disco gunfight scene and the prelude to the rape scene being particularly remarkable, demonstrating that this director is really one to watch. It's a shame about the quality of the film, which is often rough and sometimes even has hairs on it, but that's easy enough to overlook. This is a big, rambling story which sometimes hits and sometimes misses, but which is overall well worth going to see.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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A gritty look at gang life in Rio De Janeiro.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Writer: Braulio Mantovani, based on the novel by Paulo Lins

Starring: Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge, Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino de Hora, Phelipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva

Year: 2002

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Brazil


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