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Volume 69, Issue 106, Monday, March 9, 2004

Arts & Entertainment

Real people live in 'City of God'

Brazilian film uses violence, impressive cinematography to depict life in slums

By Sarah Ohmer
The Daily Cougar

Come watch the Brazilian chicken run in the favellas of Rio. Let the salsa, funk, disco, jazz and soul drag you down in the ironic cha cha cha of Brazil's City of God. The film by the same name has scenes that involve traveling through the 1960s and 1970s and jumping from one gangster biography to another to bring the webbed tragedy of the hoodlums to your seat.

The screenplay turns the movie into a book with titled chapters, and the directing follows the text with visual transitions that give the film a finely threaded feel. The feeling is apparent from the beginning. Each shot transports the audience to a different character, a different intimate spot of the favella, into the heart of the daily life in the slums of Rio.

The camera chases a bullet from the gun barrel, to a wall and to the reflection of a hoodlum trapped in a car's side mirror. The beautiful cinematography follows the hoodlums beside their shadows and up to the sweat on their foreheads. The screen comes to life, and you can almost smell the ganja in the cabin bedroom; you can almost feel the gun shot in your back.

With TV clips and elaborate relationships, the plot screams the attempt to stay as close to a true story as possible, The stark soundtrack of bicycle wheels intensifies the audience's participation. You're there, riding your bike beside them, suffocating in the narrow cement labyrinth.

Just like in the American Menace to Society, or the French La Haine (Hate), the Brazilian City of God recaps the classic gangster frame into a contemporary documentary context, with fresh editing and charmingly honest acting. The cast perfectly embodies how beautiful and peaceful the Brazilians are amongst each other.

They show the groove that existed despite the massive gang shootouts and the desensitized murderers. Boys fall in love and deal drugs, friends bond with their shotguns around a lucky guy protected by synchronicity. 

Alexandre Rodrigues' character Rocket profits from being at the right place and the right time to take the pictures that are his way out. He shoots his own kind with his mechanical eye, not their violent guns, and outlives the ill-fated hoodlums. 

The kids of City of God represent the tragic victims of free trade's irony, the desparecidos, the forgotten ones in South America. And the actors are too appealing to let audiences ignore them.

A subtly stunning part of the screenplay is the lack of mushy, egotistical focus on emotional character conflicts. In the sloppily stacked slums, no one wastes time with words. They dream with passion, act out their passions and live and die with passion. 

The petty dialogues about relationships, sadness or having a bad day don't exist. An adulterous wife is beaten into the ground of her own living room, a 5-year-old boy gets shot in cold blood while he cries and more gruesome scenes remind people how grateful they should be for their own life.

You'll fall in love with the characters and almost wish you could hand them your lifestyle. Although City of God had everything to reap the Academy's Oscars, the ethnically altruist Festival de Cannes accepted the honor instead and awarded the film the Palme d'Or.

City of God

Rated: R

Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino

Miramax Films

The verdict: Brazilian cinema at its finest.

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