City of God (Cidade de Deus)
So I’ve had this movie sitting in my room for well over a month now. I was really gun-ho about watching it when I got it and just keep forgetting about it. Fortunately I finally managed to pop it in and I really wish I had waited so long to see this.
City of God is not an English speaking film. The movie takes place in Rio De Janeiro Brazil and thus the language spoken is Portuguese. There are subtitles that helped and weren’t obtrusive. For the most part I’m not bothered by foreign language films and reading the subtitles, but at some movies format them oddly. They make the text incredibly small and don’t always sync it properly. Fortunately that wasn’t an issue here or at least it wasn’t one that I noticed.
City of God is about a “slum” (basically a neighborhood much like a borough) in Rio De Janeiro from the 60s to the 80s. You follow the same characters give or take and see them grow up and die (at a very young age). It isn’t an uplifting movie. The focus is on kids growing up in a horrible area and getting involved in various aspects of criminal life early on. The movie is also based off of real life people and events.
A lot of the promotional stuff compares the movie to films such as Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. I don’t necessarily agree with that. It is defiantly a very dark and relatively gritty crime drama, but it’s not graphic in the same way as the other two movies. It is however as good as those movies.
None of the “actors” had any real training for this film and most are from the area. Finding that out after the fact made me even more impressed with the movie. It felt almost like a documentary watching it and knowing that many of the actors were basically improvising a lot of things and just being themselves in a way provides a sort of disturbing authenticity to the film. I don’t know if any of the performances are really extraordinary without that knowledge, but they are very good.
The character development really spurns the story onwards and keeps it from being a documentary. The film uses a narrator who tells this “story” and explains how he has to tell a story about various characters to advance the main arc forward. This really isn’t necessary, but it helps keep the movie more personal. By having Rocket (the narrator) tell us about his friends and telling individual’s stories it kinda made things more personal. Since the movie pretty much sticks with a few key characters you get a chance to see them grow from when they were little to young adults. The close focus on the characters allows you to get a deeper look into the City of God.
Another little thing I liked was that Rocket really isn’t important for the majority of the movie. He tells his story by telling the story of others. Apart from his narration he really only makes brief appearances. Sticking with the Goodfellas comparison it would be like having Ray Liotta narrate that movie still but you’d hardly see his character. Instead you’d tell Joe Pesci and DeNiro’s story with Liotta making small appearances.
It’s an extraordinary film and the language barrier shouldn’t keep you from seeing it. While it isn’t Goodfellas or The Godfather it is probably the South American version of those films.