Using street kids straight from the Cidade de Deus slum outside Rio de Janeiro, Fernando Meirelles' film is based on actual events that happened in the slum. The story, revealed by Buscape - a street kid who decides to become a photojournalist when he discovers he is not cut out to become a villain - revolves around the shadowy world of drugs and the violence which increases with each generation. Li'l Ze has grown up to become a natural-born-killer and attempt to take over the drugs trade of the city. However, this sparks a turf war which is photographed by Buscape, making the war famous.
Like cinematic dynamite, City of God
lights a fuse under its squalid Brazilian ghetto, and we're a captive audience to its violent explosion. The titular favela
is home to a seething army of impoverished children who grow, over the film's ambitious 20-year time frame, into cut-throat killers, drug lords and feral survivors. In the vortex of this maelstrom is L'il Z (Leandro Firmino da Hora--like most of the cast, a non-professional actor), self-appointed king of the dealers, determined to eliminate all competition at the expense of his corrupted soul. With enough visual vitality and provocative substance to spark heated debate (and box-office gold) in Brazil, codirectors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund tackle their subject head on, creating a portrait of youthful anarchy so appalling--and so authentically immediate--that City of God
prompted reforms in socioeconomic policy. It's a bracing feat of stylistic audacity, borrowing from a dozen other films to form its own unique identity. You'll flinch, but you can't look away. --Jeff Shannon