083. City of God (Directed by Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund, 2003): The title is evocative, because if there is a place that represents absolute godlessness, it’s the City of God, the title given to a section of slums in Rio de Janeiro. The film is told through the eyes of Rocket, a young man trying to make it in the slums, but it’s unfair to say he’s the main character in the film. In fact, he might not even be the main character in his own life. Lil’ Ze looms large over this film. Younger associate of a gang of smalltime hoods, Ze’s thirst for murder and mayhem makes him a bigger figure than they could ever be, eventually he becomes the kingpin of the entire City of God when, on a whim, he decides to murder the slum’s various leaders of the drug trade because that’s where the money lies. Benny, his longtime associate, is the brains of the outfit, the only one who can possibly quell Ze’s rage and direct it in the appropriate manner. When Ze becomes jealous of Benny’s ways with the ladies, he directs his fury towards a random guy walking home with his girlfriend and creates the legend of Knockout Ned, the only guy willing to stand up to Ze. Rocket, working for a newspaper, now, takes photos of the goings-on and soon becomes a photographer for the paper, as Ned and Ze head toward a climactic showdown.
City of God is a film of unbridled fury and kinetic energy. It’s the kind of film where the history of an apartment is detailed, spanning many years, yet is covered in just over two minutes of screentime. Or witness the opening scene where a scene where hoodlums chase down a runaway chicken, only to find themselves face-to-face with the police, and Rocket is in the middle as the camera rotates around him, showing that he’s trapped on all sides, with no visible way out.
The violence in City of God is often an issue that comes up as a talking point about the film, especially in light of the scene where one child is told to shoot another, but it’s never excessive. One never gets the sense that any of the violence in City of God is justifiable, or cool. And violence always comes with a price. Witness the ending where a new generation of gangster seems poised to take control. A new breed with no qualms about killing, and no qualms about killing for no real reason, rather than a rather abstract goal that they have no means to accomplish or knowledge of how to make happen. In City of God, violence begets violence, with no seeming end. It’s a wake-up call, and a fascinating film.