>Movie Review: City of God (Cuidade de Deus)

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Please do not judge people or the countries from which they hail based upon books, movies, or TV shows. Remember, these are short vignettes of an overall culture that tell only a part of the complete story. Just as Americans do not like to be judged based on the attitudes of Texans, Americans – and people in general – should not judge others based on the actions or attitudes of a few.

That being said, City of God focuses on the life of two boys growing up in a shantytown (favela) outside Sao Paulo, Brazil. From the 1960s through present-day, we see episodes of the boy’s interactions with their parents, their siblings, the police, and the local community. Struggles for money, for prestige, for recognition, and for power all exhibit themselves throughout the boys lives.

Eventually, the boys paths diverge. Rocket, our narrator, becomes a photographer later in life. His ties to the favelas allow him back inside to chronicle the harshness of the “hood” (criminal) life, the drug culture, and, in particular, the exploits of his childhood friend, Lil’ Dice. Lil’ Dice would later become known as Lil’ Ze and become the de facto lord of Cuidade de Deus.

Lil’ Ze brought a form of peace to the City of God, as no type of commerce escaped his control, coupled with this control, he had the added benefit of having corrupt police under his influence. Rocket was able to capture many images of Lil’ Ze life on film, which allowed the other classes of Brazilian society insight into the life inside these favelas.

Soccer is an important past time, though “past time” is not an effective term, as children seemed to play soccer all day rather than go to school. Homes within the favelas tended to run from cookie-cutter government built housing, tiny single story peaked roof homes lining dirt streets. Electricity ran sometimes, water ran sometimes. All males over the age of 10 carried a working handgun, handguns that were disproportionately large compared to the hand which held the weapon.

Criminal codes were enforced. Robbing someone “cool” was not encouraged. Robberies by children were discouraged by the older “hoods.”

Families of many different cultural ancestries lived within the favelas. Children of obvious African ancestry would run side-by-side with children of mixed ancestry or obvious European ancestry, very light-skinned Caucasians with curly red hair.

“City of God” is inspired by true events with the real favela of Cuidade de Deus. Knowing the ahead of time reinforces many of the themes, plot details, and images portrayed throughout the movie. Much of the movie is spent relating the adolescent life of Rocket, Lil Dice, and Benny. The photography of Rocket, while a topic of conversation early in the movie, does not manifest itself until much later as a series of events culminate in a violent episode.

The movie is best watched when complete attention can be devoted. Don’t try to read a book or grade papers while watching; subtitles are mandatory unless Portuguese has been mastered.

This is a good movie and worth the couple hours.

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