ninth symphony films - movie reviews

CIDADE DE DEUS (City of God) (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  k. lund & f. meirelles

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  130 minutes

RELEASED  -  17 january 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  miramax pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  city of god

city of god - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from city of god at

buy the dvd from city of god at

two boys growing up in a violent neighborhood of rio de janeiro take different paths: one becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer.

most of people who appear in the film had never acted before. they are real habitants of the city of god.


picture from city of god

picture from city of god

picture from city of god


three out of four possible stars

The realism of City of God will astound even the most cynical of viewers, though the rather large cast of the film might have some audience members wondering on which character he or she should focus. The film is a brilliant look at the lives of people caught in a daily war zone, even though the government has officially declared no "war" and the violence has proceeded unhindered for decades. Emphasizing the true story of a group of residents in the "Cidade de Deus" section of Rio de Janeiro, the film covers a lot of ground in its two hours.

Though those two hours become somewhat overwhelming around the mid-point of the film as the stories of quite a few individuals are told in rapid-fire succession. The method of telling the stories has much horror to it with the senseless killings and violence the people in the City of God have to endure, but there is also a sense of levity included into the screenplay which seems totally appropriate despite the brutality. Perhaps the filmmakersí realization that humor exists even in the most desperate conditions that led them to include a few laughs into the mix. If anything, the representation of human life in this section of Brazil is made more complete with the full range of emotions, from laughter to death, included in the mix.

For a feature film shot entirely on a digital camera, the filmmakers seem to have been blessed with stunning cinematography that heretofore has not been seen on such a scale in a digitally created film (excepting perhaps Attack of the Clones, but that film is a different beast entirely). The film covers a span of around a decade and a half and in that time the audience is shown how the hastily constructed city on the outskirts of Rio once drew the poor into its doors by the thousands, but quickly fell into the most violent area of the city. It became the area that no one in the tourist friendly section of Rio wanted to talk about or let outsiders see.

From dense jungle settings to dusty mud houses reminiscent of New Mexican pueblos to the gorgeous waters off the coast, this film covers so many different types of terrain that just the look of the film is fascinating, never mind its characters or the subject matter. The filmmakers have refused to gloss over any part of the ravaged part of town and make sure that audience members can all but feel the sweat dripping off the bodies of the cast. And with such a diverse cast included in the film, the various characters (black, white, and Spanish) all contribute to making the film a full, rich experience.

So with beautiful vistas to look at and gorgeous people to listen to, it may come as a surprise to some viewers that a film filled with so much information can slow to a turtleís pace at times. It runs just a few minutes over two hours, but because of the amount of information thrown at the audience and the fact that the pacing isnít always consistent, the film doesnít always proceed as smoothly as it could. The filmmakers probably could have kept the film from wandering if they had focused more upon the protagonistís story (or the person most likely to be considered the protagonist).

The film leaps away from the story of "Buscape," the person whose viewpoint is used through much of the film (played by newcomer Alexandre Rodrigues) to tell the stories of other residents in the City of God, but doesnít always keep Buscape in the picture (literally and figuratively speaking). That said, the film still does remarkable well in telling the stories of quite a large cast of characters. There are at least twenty stories that proceed concurrently over the course of the film and by the closing credits the audience has intimate knowledge about every single person. Itís just hard to reconcile the lack of attention paid to the main character.

City of God is both a hard film to watch and a beautiful one to see, bringing to life the lives of some very depraved individuals in a very graphic manner. It is ironic how beautiful the ocean off the coast of Brazil is, considering what awful conditions the people in the City of God must endure. Paradise exists but a few miles from some of the most horrific slums on the planet. This film is an eye-opener both because of the real-life stories covered and because of the high degree of filmmaking the crew shows they are capable of. This movie exceeds the production values of many American based films and is one of the most vibrant stories to be told on screen (either foreign or domestic) in years.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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