Originally written for Passionforcinema.com. The article has been published here.
Civilization. Sanity. Peace. Brotherhood. Throw these words out of the window. Because, with respect to the City of God, they are not only an aberration and theoretical, but also, fantastic. A city where every unarmed person is equivalent to a eunuch, a city where anarchy is the only form of order. A city where massacre is a rule, peace an exception. A city thriving on the fringes of insanity and its people clinging on to the feeble dim of shallow hope.
Adapted from Paulo Lins’s novel, the movie is a gut wrenching account of the people living in the City of God( Rio-di-Jenerio’s slum). Narrated by Rocket, a wannabe photographer, who unlike his brothers, and the majority of the people of the city of Gods is not obsessed with guns. Or, taking life. He admits he is not cut out for that stuff. The movie is a first hand story about an ordinary guy who grew up in the City of God, his tryst with this abnormal world, where killing is almost as common place as is the lack of it on the streets of a so called normal, civilized world. Almost everyone and everything is corrupt, the city’s name is ironic in the very sense because it looks as if it is this very city that has been abandoned by the Gods. Most of the cops are as dangerous as the hoodlums dominating the street, a child’s definition of becoming a man is this - I smoke, I snort, I’ve killed and robbed, I’m a man. Robot narrates the story and the movie almost unfolds in a chapter wise format, delineating each character’s background and bind them to the main story with seamless ease.
The movie opens to a mad chicken chase. An entire gang is running after the chicken, a symbolic representation of the narrator’s unending desire to flee from the same madness. The manner in which the scene launches till the point it concludes is simply amazing. The cinematography here is just magical, for a few seconds the camera almost becomes a living entity running with the spirit of chicken and possessing the heart to break free. It has to be one of the most kinetic opening sequences in the movies. In host of other scenes as well, the cinematography of the movie stands out, be it capturing the blood laden streets and by lanes of the favelas, or be it the violent action scenes, or capturing the symmetric houses(probably the only thing in the place that exists in order and symmetry). The editing too is top notch, movie switches time so casually, but, not for once does it looks discontinuous, all the parts merge into each seamlessly and the movie succesfully emerges as one gigantic story composed of different sub-plots embedded to each other.
I was pleasantly amazed to find that the movie had only one formal actor, rest all were kids from the favela itself(although they went under a rigorous acting workshop later!). The performances are just so natural, there is no forced histrionics, no sense of lingering in any scene, the movie is spellbinding and unravels with blinding ferocity.
The movie tells in its own chilling way that how crime never pays, that how one can never win in the world of crime, how one can never be the boss when everyone is wrong around, that the transition from being ruled to a ruler can be done with unbelievable ease, that this world of violence can come back and bite anyone and everyone. City of God is a depressing testimony to this fact.