Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
“It is the open-ended final minutes, in which a generation of almost feral homeless kids take over the projects, that makes the film’s point crystal clear: This is a horror movie of the first order.” (901, Ernest Hardy, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) City of God is really quite a brutal movie, all the more so when you realize that these are kids who actually live in a similar environment. For all its brutality the film is vibrant and pulsing with life (despite all the death that surrounds them).
I found the Portuguese difficult to understand for quite a large part of the film but I think that’s due to my never having heard it before. Towards the end my ear was starting to tune into it making it easier to understand.
“[…] each successive generation becomes less connected to the human traits of empathy, conscience, and hope.” (901) Of all the street kids the ones that I found the most disturbing and difficult to watch were “The Runts” who end up taking over the city. I think it’s because they are so young and yet already so full of violence. There’s a particularly horrific moment when Lil’ Ze forces one of the young members of his gang to shoot one of the Runts, as initiation. The two victims, having already been shot in the foot, are crying reminding the audience just how young they are making the whole incident harrowing to watch.
Hardy says “if there’s a lead in the ensemble of motley characters (the cast is composed of non-actors, real-life street kids) and intertwined storylines, it’s the hyper-violent Lil’ Ze (Leandro Firmino), whose prosperity for violence and complete lack of remorse make him a terrifying figure.” (901) In some respects he has hit the nail on the head. Lil’ Ze is psychotic and it manifests itself early on in his desire to kill from such a young age. However I felt like the lead was actually Buscapé, played with a sensitivity lacking anywhere else in the City of God, by Alexandre Rodrigues who narrates the film. He’s so removed from the violence that permeates every aspect of his life, it’s quite refreshing. And unlike anyone else he manages to escape the hellish conditions The City of God has descended into.
The fact that this film is based on the true story of Buscapé’s life – as evidenced by the footage of characters from that period – and filmed using non-actors (for the most part) makes the film all the more poignant. I came away with a renewed perspective on just how privileged a lifestyle I have.