“Crack kills” would be more than an understatement in the dusty slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In Fernando Meirelle’s City of God, (Cidade de Deus) the callous reality of the effects of drugs and poverty from the 1960s to the 1980s is vividly depicted. The film’s intense graphic display of violence controls the emotions of the audience. You may find yourself initially wincing as you gape at the sight of the first brutal murders.
But by the end of the film, like the residents of City of God, you will become accustomed to the capricious murders, and only wonder who will die next. It is worth noting that the film’s intention is not to desensitize the audience. Its purpose is quite the opposite. Meirelles creates a view into this harsh world that forces the viewer to accept the reality of this city and era.
The plot is driven by the life of a Brazilian boy named Rocket, although the story is not his own. Rather, the City of God is the main character. Rocket’s story is just the backdrop, through the brutally honest reality of growing up in the impoverished and drug-infested slums during the ’70s.
Rocket describes the city’s story by recounting the lives of its autocrats. Each leader is individually introduced and their lives are interwoven to create one complete history of the City of God. Because the director uses flashbacks and repetition, the viewer is forced to remember relationships between past and present characters and events.
City of God was released internationally in August 2002, but was only released in select theaters in the United States in January 2003, and then re-released in February 2004. The plot is one seen before – gang wars in a poor neighborhood. But originality is not the goal of this film, especially because it is based on a true story. City of God is a horrifically intriguing film that keeps its audience on its toes, while hanging on to every subtitle.
Jasmine Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.