Halfway through the list already, City of God stands comfortably as one of the 21st Century’s 10 Greatest Films….

In the past few years, the historic city of Rio de Janeiro has hosted prestigious events such as the World Cup and Olympics. You’ve probably been breath-taken by the glorious images of Copacabana beach, Sugarloaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer standing tall over this gorgeous city. Beneath its shadows however, a monster lurks. As the tagline of this film reads: “If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you”. This beast I am referring to is the slum of Cicade de Deustranslated to City of God.

Based on true events, this particular tale of the slum is set from the late ’60s to the early ’80s and finds its soul with Rocket, another poverty-stricken kid waiting to follow the inevitable steps to the gang life like his older brother and friends. Killing is all everyone in the notorious Rio favela knows and lives for. The story also follows the antagonist Li’l Dice who follows his gangster calling with the obsessive strictness of a monk, rising through the levels to become the leader of all the slum’s gangs. Rocket however finds himself a different path – his passion for photography leads him to believe there is a way out of godforsaken slums and into the glamour of Rio that could not be further away.

Director Fernando Meirelles has crafted a Brazilian Goodfellas here. Like Scorsese, he gives us amazing close-ups, long shot scenes, freeze frames and a few frantic handheld camera chases. The hysterical out-of-control editing adds to the entertainment, while the evocative cinematography has often made me question: “Is this hell-ridden place really Rio?” My favourite trick pulled by Meirelles is that he gives every possible character a backstory, with Rocket narrating it like Henry Hill in Goodfellas.

However, this is a much more brutal tale than Goodfellas – murders are still happening every day, going intentionally unnoticed by the bribed policemen. We gradually perceive that all gang members are so young due to the death rate being ridiculously high. These teenagers don’t gossip about their teachers and friends, they fixate on which victim they are going to prey on next. We see life after an apocalypse – there are no rules, no police, just one winner and many dead losers.

City of God is a visually alive interpretation of the day-to-day life in the infamous slum. The splattered blood of the murdered victims runs as concentrated as the irony of the slum’s name. Although we can get caught up in the pulsating action sequences and shocking murder twists, when all is finished and done – there are still more children in this very day waiting to follow their gangster vocation. We don’t have this inevitability; how lucky we are.

Sean McGurk

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Media Courtesy of Lighthouse Productions

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