I came across “City of God” when I was surfing the net for some foreign films to download. The title itself was intriguing, sounds something like a romantic film or a light drama. But when I read the reviews about it, I was totally mistaken. It’s not romance, and it’s certainly not “light”. And all hell broke loose when I finally got to watch it. Here is its plot.
The movie begins depicting chickens being prepared for a meal. A chicken escapes and an armed gang chases after it. The chicken comes to a stop between the gang and a young man named Rocket (Buscapé), who believes that the gang wants to kill him. The timeline then flashes back to ten years earlier, as Rocket tells the story of how he got himself into that position.
Three thieves known as the "Tender Trio" (Trio Ternura) — Shaggy, Clipper, and Goose — are terrorizing local businesses with armed holdups; Goose is Rocket's brother. In Robin Hood fashion, they split part of the loot with the citizens of a favela called the City of God (Cidade de Deus), and are protected by them in return. Several younger boys idolise the trio and follow them around—one such hanger-on, known as Li'l Dice (Dadinho), convinces them to hold up a motel and rob its occupants. The gang agree but, resolving not to kill anyone. They give him a gun and tell him to fire a warning shot if the police arrive. Unsatisfied with this, Li'l Dice fires a warning shot mid-robbery and proceeds to fulfill his bloodlust by slaughtering all the inhabitants of the motel once the gang have run off. The massacre brings on the attention of the police, forcing the Tender Trio to leave the slum.
The timeline jumps forward a number of years. Rocket has become a part of the "Groovies", a hippie-like group of youths that enjoy smoking marijuana. He develops an interest in photography by taking pictures of his friends. Li'l Dice now calls himself "Li'l Zé" ("Zé Pequeno"), and along with his childhood friend Benny has established a drug empire by eliminating all of the competition—except for one dealer named Carrot.
A relative peace has come over the City of God under the reign of Li'l Zé, who avoids the police's attention. Zé plans to kill his last rival, Carrot, but is stopped by Benny, who is a friend of Carrot's. Eventually, along with the girl that he has wooed away from Rocket, Benny decides to leave the criminal life behind to live on a farm and throws a farewell party. Zé, unable to find a girl who will dance with him at the party, humiliates a peace-loving man named Knockout Ned (Mané Galinha). Later, Benny is gunned down by a former drug dealer, Neguinho, who was aiming for Zé. Benny was the only man holding Li'l Zé back from taking over Carrot's (Cenoura) business. His death leaves Carrot in danger.
Following Benny's death, Zé rapes Ned's girlfriend, then kills his uncle and younger brother. Ned, looking for revenge, sides with Carrot. After Ned kills one of Li'l Zé's men and wounds Zé himself, a war breaks out between the two rival factions that engulfs the whole of the Cidade de Deus. Jealous of Ned's notoriety in the newspapers, Zé has Rocket take photos of him and his gang. Unknown to Rocket, a reporter decides to publish the developed prints in the daily paper.
The story has come around full circle to the start of the movie. Confronted by the gang, Rocket is surprised that Zé is asking him to take a picture of the gang. Just as Rocket prepares to take the photograph, however, Carrot arrives and a gunfight ensues between the two gangs, and later the police. Ned is killed by a boy who has infiltrated his gang to avenge his father. Li'l Zé and Carrot are arrested and Carrot is taken away to be paraded in front of the press. Zé is shaken down for money, humiliated, and finally released, all while being secretly photographed by Rocket. After the police officers leave, the Runts surround Zé and murder him in retribution for having killed one of their friends earlier in the movie. Rocket takes pictures of Zé's dead body and goes to the newspaper.
Rocket hesitated whether or not to put the pictures of the crooked police officers in the newspaper, or the picture of Zé's dead body. The photos of the cops would make him famous but put him in danger, while the photos of Li'l Zé would guarantee him a job at the paper. He decides to take the safe route, and the newspaper runs his picture of Zé's bullet-ridden corpse.
The story ends with the Runts walking around the City of God, making a hit list of the dealers they plan to kill in order to take over the drug business.
“City of God” is a gangster movie like no other. It is set in old Brazil, the cinematography and costumes say so. The movie is about the development of gangsters in the slums and the cycle of violence involved. Expectedly, much of the visuals are disturbing – the dirty community, children smoking marijuana, the endless robbery and killings, a society dominated by fear and chaos, and the general pathetic conditions in the slums. The film has a dark atmosphere, creating feelings of dread, sadness and hopelessness.
The movie is also about choices. The main character, Rocky, is always trapped in conflicting choices throughout the movie, like love and friendship, like honesty and alibis, like dream and security. And his was a long journey, painstakingly earned and rightfully deserved.
The movie ended well for Rocky, but not for the City. As Rocky began a new life, the City moved to a new reign of terror. It was satisfying nonetheless.
The movie demands a mature audience. The violence portrayed is not ordinary, and the idea of success in the drug world is quite inappropriate. Though there are fun moments, they are always overshadowed by terror, a symbolism for the real life. But behind the scenes is the deep message the movie conveys – what is true for the individual is true for the society…
I enjoy and love the movie. Truly unbelievable and unforgettable!
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