And number 21 of the 1000 greatest films of all time, we have the Brazilian crime drama, another foreign language classic, the 2002 City of God.
What’s it about: City of God is set in a slum in Rio De Janerio otherwise known as the City of God. It focuses on two boys who grow up within the slum and the extreme crime that surrounds them. The two boys are Rocket, the narrator, who aspires to escape the slum by becoming a photojournalist and L’il Dice, later L’il Ze, a psychotic child who soon grows to become the most feared drug lord in the City of God.
The Good: This film was amazing. Seriously. It reminded me of why I started reviewing films in the first place. City of God is dark, morally ambiguous, twisted and brilliantly depicts the world of organised crime. It is gritty and brutal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people get shot in one movie before. One of its greatest strengths is its fragmented narrative, which rather than following a traditional linear timeline, jumps back and forth from story to story and character to character. The film also had a very authentic and realistic feel to it. I read on IMDB that the director hand-picked children straight out of slums, which further added to the realism.
The characters were all very interesting too. Even though, the cast was large, the film only explores the backstories of the primary characters, leaving the rest in mystery. This all helped to add to the moral ambiguity of the film. Rocket was also very interesting as a character. Even though he is the narrator and the protagonist, he is very much on the periphery and of everything. For example, when L’il Ze enters a war with a rival drug lord, Carrot, Rocket just watches and doesn’t get involved. L’il Ze was perhaps one of the scariest villains I have ever seen in a film. He was a psychopath from a very young age. In a particularly brutal scene, L’il Ze, only a very young boy, is left with a gun as a lookout, whilst an older crew rob a motel with a sworn rule not to kill anyone. Unsatisfied with this role, L’il Ze scares the older boys away by falsely telling them the police had arrived, before shooting everyone in the hotel and taking any leftover money, whilst laughing manically. At 18, L’il Ze then becomes top dog in the City of God by murdering all of his competition.
I also really loved all of the camerawork in this film. There were so many great uses of close-ups and freeze frames. At some points, shakey cam was used, which helped to add to the film’s tension. The flashback scenes were quite grainy and had a slight yellow filter, which I felt really added to the old-time feel of the shots.
The greatest part of the film was how it had a cyclical narrative and every event and story was connected and led onto the next. For example, the character of Knockout Ned joins Carrot in fighting L’il Ze, after L’il Ze raped Ned’s girlfriend and shot his brother and uncle. However, what gets Ned killed is Otto, a son of a security guard whom Ned murdered during a bank robbery. Otto shoots Ned in the back as an act of revenge. The best example of the film’s cyclical narrative is when at the movie’s conclusion, L’il Ze is gunned down by a gang of children (called the Runts) who want to take over his business. They then make a list of all of the drug dealers they have to kill in order to become top dogs, in a way very reminiscent of L’il Ze’s rise to power. For me, this was a great instance of what goes round comes around and how a life of crime can always come full circle.
The bad: Hmm, there were the occasional moments, where the film’s fragmented narrative did confuse me, but these moments were few and far between.
The Ugly: In the film’s most brutal scene, L’il Ze initiates a young boy into his gang by ordering him to shoot one of two Runts, children not older than ten, who have been causing trouble in L’il Ze’s territory. If this isn’t ugly, I don’t know what is.
A film worthy of a superlative rating if ever there was one. This film is intense, gritty and dramatic and is wonderfully made. It demonstrates what life is like in slums without romanticising it. Arguably, this film is a modern-day western, although lacking in a once upon a time or cowboys walking off into the sunset.