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Brazil’s violent gang culture creates an explosive cinematic moment

It is rare to see a film these days that entertains an audience with standard elements of cinematic formula while simultaneously satiating the desires of veteran movie lovers. “City of God” (“Cidade de Deus”) boasts sincere and seemingly effortless performances by a cast of Brazilian street kids, each of whom might possess more insight and motivation for acting than most Hollywood actors could ever hope for. Additionally, the organic, amphetamine-style cinematography and art direction are married by a flirtatious timeline which resembles a chronological jigsaw puzzle. This film is brilliantly innovative and utilizes some of the most influential and attractive methods of film-making. It has been a long time since a movie this stimulating, violently disturbing and yet purposeful was released.

“City of God” is an autobiography of a beautiful tourist city gone awry. The fact that the events that unfold on the screen in this gang epic are all based on a true story make this film even more disturbing and incredible. The film takes place in the ghettos and slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, spanning the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. While capturing the natural beauty of Brazil, the filmmakers reveal the rapid deterioration and corruption of local law enforcement within the impoverished ghettos. Also investigated is the effect this lack of order and poverty has on the inhabitants and the children of these chaotic slums.

By pulling ghetto kids off the streets of Rio to portray the characters in the film, director Fernando Meirelles sustains an authenticity and realism throughout the film that succeeds in bringing these ghettos to life. The main character in the film is played by a young man named Alexandre Rodrigues who tells the story of “Rocket,” an intelligent, aspiring young photographer who dreams of escaping the violent ghetto streets. In these dismal alleys, a person is lucky to live past the age of twenty. Rodrigues tells the story of several characters through the eyes of “Rocket,” while creating a believable and significant character himself. There are also outstanding performances by Matheus Nachtergaele, Seu Jorge and Leandro Firmino de Hora, who is merciless as “Little Ze.”

This film has recently been compared to “Goodfellas” by a number of critics. There are some similarities in the violent imagery and in the areas of gang-member hierarchy and gang life. However, there is also a profound difference in style and direction which should be given proper recognition. Fernando Meirelles has accomplished a feat rarely seen in true-to-life, violent gang cinema. By remaining fiercely loyal to the truth, he has recreated a horrific chronology of events that depict an epidemic. The subjects of the film are presented without demeaning their convictions or exploiting them or their culture. Many critics have recognized this and most agree that this movie is already a classic. Critics also agree that the movie-going public should remember the name Fernando Meirelles. I concur and will also add that in the world of modern film and directors, Fernando Meirelles is a gem.

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