Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cidade de Deus

A few weekends back, I finally got around to watching City of God off my DVR. It seems to be available on both DVD and Blu-ray at the TCM Shop, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it even though I don't think it's coming on TV any time soon.

The movie starts off with a bunch of young men and boys in what looks like the edge of one of Rio de Janerio's favelas and a slightly wealthier part of the city about to have a barbecue chicken feast, with them about to wring the live chicken's neck on the spot. However, the chicken escapes and the group chases after that, which is when they run into photographer "Rocket" (Alexandre Rodrigues). Rocket recognizes the head of the gang chasing after the chicken....

Flash back to when Rocket was a boy, in the 1960s. He lived in the "City of God", which was a then-new development created by the government on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to house people who had been displaced by flooding. It's a tough life, as those who try to make an honest living scrape by doing odd jobs. Other people, especially adolescent boys, decide that they won't be able to survive doing such odd jobs, and take the dishonest route of getting what they want through violent crime.

First, the gang violence affects the people who are the age of Rocket's elder brother, but then as time goes on it ensnares people who are Rocket's age and even younger, and the crime escalates from highway robbery to large-scale drug dealing. Unsurprisingly, the City of God winds up with two rival drug gangs, and various people caught in the middle.

Rocket, meanwhile, tries to take a more honest way out of the City of God, although of course it's not always easy. And on the edge of all this is the outside world when the crime affects people on the outside and brings the police in; it seems as if the only time the police really gives a damn is when it looks like the violence is going to spill over and cause problems for "polite" society.

City of God has a relatively simple synopsis on the face of it, but it's really a lot more complicated than that. That's down to the story structure, which starts in the "present", by which I mean that the the setting is close to the end of the story at the start, and most of the movie is the backstory of how we got to where we are. The start of the movie is actually set in the late 1970s, about a quarter century before the movie was released (2002).

I suppose you could call it a flashback, but I don't think that quite does it justice. The flashback actually goes to various points in time, suddenly stopping when Rocket points out that we need to learn the back story of a different character who's going to show up later in a key way. And some events, such as a hotel robbery, are revisited multiple times from the perspective of different characters. That having been said, the story structure works spectacularly, even though it's one that definitely requires a good deal of attention.

City of God is an engrossing movie with an interesting story to tell, and one which is ultimately told very well. One caveat, however, is that the story contains a lot of violence. And that's an understatement. The violence is unrelenting, shocking, and frankly disturbing in some cases (such as a gang initiation; I won't go further). Although the main characters are almost all children up to young adults (maybe in their early 20s maximum), this isn't a movie for children thanks to the violence. And the sex. One of the running subplots involves Rocket trying to find love and sex, another incident involves rape, and that hotel robbery that I mentioned earlier is at a hotel where people go to cavort with prostitutes and mistresses. It's not the pretty side of life, but it's a side of life that needs to be shown.

City of God comes with one of the higher recommendations I can give. If you haven't seen it before, it's highly worth a watch.

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