Published Jan 01, 2006Based on a true story, City of God chronicles two decades of crime-riddled life in Rio de Janeiro's worst ghetto. This remarkable Brazilian film employs a neat literary structure (breaking the action down into narrated short stories) to show the rather horrific transformation of the ghetto's children from innocents to petty thieves to vicious gangsters battling for control of the neighbourhood's lucrative drug trade. The narrator and emotional centre of the movie is Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), an aspiring young photographer whose proximity to the major players in his home's burgeoning crime scene makes him the perfect observer. The portrayal of this insular world populated by people so socially marginalised that they create their own hierarchy of power based on criminal activity is equal parts riveting and terrifying, particularly because the vast majority of the participants are under the age of 20. The callous disregard for life by those so young is initially shocking, but the film is so consistently violent that you begin to get desensitised as you grow accustomed to the brutal facts of their daily life.
It is the artfully told stories that make this film so compelling despite its bleak context, each crafting fascinating characters that are astoundingly sympathetic despite their obvious flaws. The visual style captures well the neighbourhood's transition from the sun-drenched days of relative innocence to the increasingly dark, nightmarish days of inescapable gangland warfare. The movie also does well to hint at the corruption of a surrounding society that allows its poor, abandoned young to wreak such havoc while they at best ignore and at worst exploit the situation for their own profit.