Tuesday, March 12, 2013

City of God

Based on the novel by Paulo Lins, Cidade de Deus (City of God) is a multi-layered story about a young man living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where he finds himself in the middle of a war between drug dealers that included childhood friends in the 1960s and 1970s. Directed by Fernando Meirelles, with additional work by Katia Lund, and screenplay by Braulio Mantovani, the film is an exploration into the world of crime seen in the eyes of a young man who aspires to become a photographer. Starring Alexandre Rodrigues, Alice Braga, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Jonathan Haagensen, and Seu Jorge. Cidade de Deus is a gripping yet sprawling film from Fernando Meirelles.

The film is a look into the life of crime that eventually led to a bloody drug war between dealers as it is seen in the eyes of a young man from the 1960s and 1970s. Notably as this young man called Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) sees things up-close and from afar as he tries to lead a straight life in the middle of this chaos as he watches childhood acquaintances in Lil’ Ze (Leandro Firimo) and Bene (Phellipe Haagensen) become dealers as young kids into young adults after taking over from a previous gang. Eventually, Rocket has to watch from afar as Lil’ Ze becomes a leader where he rises while battling it out with another dealer in Carrot (Matheus Natchtergaele) who later gains a dangerous ally in Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) whom Rocket knows as he captures all of it with his camera.

Braulio Mantovani’s script is mostly reflective since it is told from the perspective of Rocket but it also shows the perspective of characters like Lil’ Ze, Bene, and Knockout Ned as well as some of their back stories. While some of the narrative does jump back-and-forth a bit to give out some exposition about the slums as well as how these characters rose to infamy. The film does start out in the 60s where many of the characters are kids as some are attracted to the world of crime as Lil’ Ze goes from a kid who aids the trio who preceded him only to take things further to an extreme. Lil’ Ze is an interesting character who is a dealer that is very ambitious and also quite cruel in a moment where he gets a young kid to kill another kid. Then there’s Bene who is this laid-back individual who is the only person that can control Lil’ Ze as he is loved by everyone as he just wants people to have a good time.

In the schematics of the script, something happens that would take the film into a new extreme where Lil’ Ze becomes far more ruthless where he would encounter a former Marine turned bus driver in Knockout Ned that leads into trouble. Especially since Knockout Ned is a man who didn’t want to be part of the war but because Lil’ Ze killed his little brother, he ends up siding with Carrot. For Rocket who finally attains a position in a newspaper by getting some pictures in the actual slums. He not only raises Lil’ Ze’s notoriety but also finds himself in danger as he finds some startling revelations into the kind of forces that are aiding these dealers. What Mantovani does with the script is unveil not just the way the drug world operates but also the fact that a guy like Rocket is living in a world that is far more troubled than he realizes where he’s one of the few people out there that stands for what is good in the world no matter how flawed he is.

Fernando Meirelles’ direction is truly stylish in the way he presents the film as he opens the film with this intricate yet mesmerizing sequence that involves a chicken face and Rocket finding himself in the middle of what is to be a gun battle that would become the film’s climax. A lot of the direction includes some hand-held camera work that is a bit shaky at times but very engaging for the way it showcases a world that is quite unforgiving. There’s a lot of robberies in a world that is very poor while violence is often very rampant but there’s also moments where things can be cool. It’s like the Wild West except in a world that is very different where there’s a beach, there’s drugs, cool music, and lots of beautiful ladies. It’s also a place where young kids can even get the chance to rise up in the world and become criminals.

With the help of Katia Lund, Meirelles creates a film that is filled with an element of style as it plays to certain periods of time where the look of the film is quite crucial where the first act in the 1960s is very sunny. Notably as it is set in a world where it looks like a desert in a town that is yet to be developed and by the time it goes into the 1970s, the look is more colorful with its mixture of trees, beaches, and all sorts of locations. Meirelles’ approach to the violence is definitely gritty and confrontational where it’s very bloody at times but also visceral in its impact. Even to the point where a child or an innocent person can get killed as Meirelles isn’t afraid to show that darkness of that world. Overall, Meirelles creates a very intense and harrowing film about a young man’s view of a dark world.

Cinematographer Cesar Charlone does great work with the film‘s very stylized cinematography from the gorgeous, sunny look of the 1960s daytime scenes to the more colorful yet gritty look of the scenes at night and in daytime scenes set in the 1970s. Editor Daniel Rezende does brilliant work with the editing by emphasizing on style with fast-paced cutting to capture the intensity of the action as well as some more methodical cuts for the low-key moments. Production designer Tule Peak does excellent work with the set pieces to play up the different time periods that occur from some of the decayed look of the slums to the eerie look of the base that the lead dealers live in.

Costume designers Bia and Ines Salgado do wonderful work with the costumes to play up the different time periods of the film as well as maintaining that sense of grit in the characters. Sound designer Martin Hernandez does amazing work with the sound to capture the air of violence in some of the film‘s darker moments as well as some of the atmosphere in the party scenes. The film’s music by Ed Cortes and Antonio Pinto is brilliant for its use of Brazilian-based music to set a dark mood while its soundtrack is a mix of samba, folk, disco, rock, and fun that is just truly one of the best soundtracks out there.

The film’s cast is just flat-out spectacular as it features some noteworthy small roles from Graziella Moretto as a journalist who hires Rocket, Charles Parventi as an arms dealer, Darlan Cunha as an addict Lil’ Ze hires, Thiago Martins and Otavio as young leaders of an adolescents-based gang known as the Runts, and Matheus Natchtergaele as the drug lord Carrot. In the roles of the first gang known as the Tenderness Trio, there’s Renato de Souza as Rocket’s older brother Goose, Jefechander Suplino as Clipper, and Jonathan Haagensen as Bene’s older brother Shaggy who is the leader of the gang who later gets into trouble. Alice Braga is wonderful as Angelica who becomes an object of affection for Rocket as she later becomes Bene’s girlfriend while Daniel Zettel is very good as Angelica’s former boyfriend Tiago who later becomes part of Lil’ Ze’s gang.

Seu Jorge is fantastic as the badass Knockout Ned who goes after Lil’ Ze over what some family deaths as he becomes an intimidating figure with a sense of compassion as he tries to fight for the people. Phellipe Haagensen is great as the laid-back Bene who is Lil’ Ze’s right-hand man who becomes the most fashionable dude in the land as he strives to get people to chill out and have fun. For the role of Lil’ Ze, there’s Douglas Silva in a brilliant performance as the young Lil’ Ze known as Lil’ Dice who is just brutal while Leandro Firmino is amazing as Lil’ Ze as this very ruthless motherfucker who is just intent on being the king of the drug world. Finally, there’s Alexandre Rodrigues and Luis Otavio in their roles as Rocket with the latter being the young adolescent who is struggling to maintain a straight path in a dark world as it’s a superb performance from Otavio. In the role of the older Rocket, Rodrigues is marvelous as this young man trying to make it through the world in a honest way as he deals with the same struggles the world of crime offers.

Cidade de Deus is a magnificent film from Fernando Meirelles. Armed with a brilliant ensemble cast, outstanding technical work, and a kick-ass soundtrack. The film is clearly among one of the great crime films to come out in the 2000s as well as a look into how a young man tries to steer away from the world of chaos while capturing it with his camera. It’s a film that is definitely unforgiving in the way violence is portrayed while taking a view into a world that is off-kilter yet thrilling. In the end, Cidade de Deus is a phenomenal film from Fernando Meirelles.

Fernando Meirelles Films: (O Menino Maluquino 2) - (Domesticas) - The Constant Gardener - (Blindness) - (360)

© thevoid99 2013


Dan O. said...

One of my favorite flicks of all-time, and one of the top 10 from the past decade. Hence why it's most iconic picture was my logo for so long. Nice review man.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review. I remember when I saw this movie, I had no idea it was based on a true story. It was so smart for Meirelles to save the “Based on a True Story” title card for the end. I couldn’t move from my seat. I was floored.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan O.-I'm not sure where I would put in my list of the best films of the 2000s but goddamn... leave it out of your list and there will be hell to pay.

@Alex Withrow-I remember seeing it on TV on one late night and I had hard time keeping myself quiet. It was unexpected in what I saw. I saw violent films before but nothing like this. This is the kind of film Sam Peckinpah would be proud of.

Ellen said...

Such a good film, definitely one of my favourites and needs more screen time! Great review too :)

thevoid99 said...

@Ellen-I'm glad there someone else that loves that movie too. Thanks for the comment.