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City of God (film)

City of God (Cidade de Deus) is a 2002 Brazilian crime drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, released in its home country in 2002 and worldwide in 2003. It was adapted by Bráulio Mantovani from the 1997 novel of the same name written by Paulo Lins which are both based on a true story; the war between Knockout Ned and Li'l Zé is based on their real life counterparts . It stars Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Jonathan Haagensen, Douglas Silva and Seu Jorge. The tagline is "Fight and you'll never survive..... Run and you'll never escape."

Most of the actors were, in fact, residents of favelas such as Vidigal and the Cidade de Deus itself.

The film received four Academy Award nominations in 2004: Best Cinematography (César Charlone), Best Directing (Meirelles), Best Editing (Daniel Rezende) and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) (Mantovani). Before that, in 2003 it had been chosen to be Brazil's runner for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it was not nominated to be one of the five finalists.

Meirelles and Lund went on to create the TV series and film City of Men, which share some of the actors (notably leads Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha) and their setting with City of God.

Plot

Taking place over the course of over two decades, City of God tells the story of Cidade de Deus (Portuguese for City of God), a lower class quarter west of Rio de Janeiro. The film is told from the viewpoint of a boy named Rocket (Busca pé in Portuguese) who grows up there as a fishmonger's son, and demonstrates the desperation and violence inherent in the slums. Based on a real story, the movie depicts drug abuse, violent crime, and a boy's struggle to free himself from the slums' grasp.

The movie begins cinematically depicting chickens being prepared for a meal. A chicken escapes and as an armed gang chases after it bumps into Rocket who believes that the gang wants to kill him. The movie then flashes back ten years earlier, to tell the story of how he got himself into that position.

Three "hoodlums", "The Tender Trio", one being Rocket's brother, Goose, are terrorizing local businesses with armed holdups. In Robin Hood fashion they split part of the loot with the citizens of City of God and are protected by them. Li'l Dice is a hanger-on who convinces them to hold up a motel and rob its occupants. Li'l Dice ("Dadinho" in Portuguese), serving as lookout, fires a warning shot, then proceeds to slaughter the inhabitants. The massacre brings on the attention of the police forcing the three to quit their criminal ways. Each meets an untimely end, except one who decides to join the church. Goose, Rocket's brother, is slain by Li'l Dice after robbing the younger boy and his friend Benny who have been hiding out and committing crimes themselves.

The movie fast forwards a number of years. Li'l Dice now calls himself Li'l Zé ("Zé Pequeno" in Portuguese), and, along with his childhood friend Benny, he establishes a drug empire by eliminating all of the competition except for a drug dealer named Carrot ("Cenoura" in Portuguese). Meanwhile, Rocket has become a part of the "Groovies" a hippie-like group of youth that enjoy smoking pot. He begins his photography career shooting his friends, especially one girl that he is infatuated with, but who is dating another boy.

A relative peace has come over City of God under the reign of Li'l Zé who plans to eliminate his last rival, Carrot, against the judgment of his best friend Benny, who is keeping the peace. At one point, his best friend and partner in crime Benny has decided to become a "playboy" and becomes the "coolest guy in City of God". Eventually, along with the girl that he has wooed away from Rocket, he decides to leave the criminal life behind to live on a farm. However, he is gunned down at his going away party by former drug dealer, Blackie, who is actually aiming for Li'l Zé. Benny was the only thing keeping Li'l Ze from taking over Carrot's business, so now Carrot is in danger.

Li'l Zé humiliates a peace loving man Knockout Ned at the party and afterwards rapes his girlfriend and kills Ned's uncle and younger brother. Ned turns violent and sides with Carrot. After killing one of Li'l Ze's men, Ned starts a war between the two rival factions that creates a "Vietnam" of City of God. Jealous of Ned's notoriety in the newspapers, Li'l Zé has Rocket take photos of himself and his gang which, unknown to Rocket, are taken by a reporter and published in the daily paper. Rocket then mistakenly fears for his life believing that Li'l Zé will want to kill him for it. In actuality, Li'l Zé is pleased with his newfound fame.

Coming full circle, Rocket is startled by Li'l Zé's request that he take a picture of the gang which had been chasing the chicken at the beginning of the film. Before he can, however, a gunfight ensues between the two gangs, but is broken up by the police. Ned is killed by a boy who has infiltrated his gang to avenge his father, who was killed by Ned during a bank robbery. Li'l Zé and Carrot are arrested and Carrot is taken away to show to the press. Li'l Zé is shaken down for money, humiliated and finally released, all of which is secretly photographed by Rocket. After the cops leave, the Runts (a gang of young children who robbed and terrorized the local merchants) come upon Li'l Zé and shoot and kill him in retribution for him killing one of their gang earlier in the film. Rocket takes pictures of Li'l Zé's dead body and goes to the newspaper.

Rocket is seen in the newspaper office looking at all of his photographs through a magnifying glass, and deciding whether or not to put the pictures of the crooked cops in the newspaper, or the picture of Ze'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 gives the paper the picture of Li'l Zé's bullet-ridden body, which runs on the front page.

The story ends with the Runts walking around the City of God, making a hit list of the dealers they plan to kill to take over their drug business.

Main characters

Role Actor Description
Buscapé (Rocket) Alexandre Rodrigues The main narrator and protagonist. A quiet, honest boy who dreams of becoming a photographer, and the only character who seems to keep his innocence during the gang wars.
Zé Pequeno (Li'l Zé) Leandro da Hora An ultra-violent, psychopathic drug dealer who goes over dead bodies to fulfill his goals. He is deeply insecure with women. When his only friend Bené is struck by fate, it drives him over the edge.
Bené (Benny) Phellipe Haagensen Li'l Zé's longtime partner in crime, he is a friendly drug dealer of the City of God, a charismatic and philanthropic criminal who wants to become honest.
Cenoura (Carrot) Matheus Nachtergaele A smaller scale drug dealer who is friendly with Bené but is constantly threatened by Zé.
Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) Seu Jorge A good-looking ladies' man with a beautiful girlfriend. When his girlfriend attracts Zé's eye, Zé rapes her and then proceeds to massacre several members of Mané's family. In retaliation, Mané and Carrot join forces.

Production background

On the City of God bonus DVD, it is revealed that the only professional actor with years of filming experience was Matheus Nachtergaele, who played the supporting role of Carrot. Most of the remaining cast were from real-life favelas, and in some cases, even the real-life City of God favela itself. From initially about 2000, about a hundred children and youths were hand-picked and placed into an "actors' workshop" for several months. In contrast to more traditional methods (e.g. studying theatre and rehearsing), it focused on simulating authentic street war scenes, such as a hold-up, a scuffle, a shoot-out etc. A lot came from improvisation, as it was thought better to create an authentic, gritty atmosphere. This way, the inexperienced cast soon learned to move and act naturally.

Prior to City of God, the directors Lund and Meirelles filmed a short film Golden Gate as a sort of test run. Only after then, the final casting for City of God was finalized. The most remarkable choice was Leandro da Hora as Zé Pequeno, as da Hora was unanimously described as a quiet, uncomplicated soul, but now played the psychotic, ultra-violent drug dealer. Da Hora himself describes his character as "pretty unbalanced, greedy and acted without thinking in everything he did (...) I see him like a normal person, but someone who through the ironies of destiny took a wrong turn somewhere."

Appropriately, the film ends eavesdropping on the machinations of the "Runts" as they assemble their death list. The real gang, "Caixa Baixa" (rat boys), is rumored to have composed such a list.

Public acclaim

City of God became the highest-grossing foreign film of 2003 in the United States. It has grossed over 7 million dollars in the U.S. and over 27 million worldwide.

Critical acclaim

City of God received impressive positive acclaim from major publications in the United States, gathering 92% of favourable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Empire chose it as the best film of 2003 and Time chose it as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time, while E! ranked it the 3rd "movie to see before you die".

Top ten lists

The film appeared on several American critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2003.

Awards and nominations

According to the Internet Movie Database, City of God won forty-eight awards and received other twenty-one nominations. Among those:

Academy Awards

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards

BAFTA Film Awards

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Golden Globe Awards

Independent Spirit Awards

  • Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards

  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

Satellite Awards

  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards

  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards

  • Won: Best Foreign Language Film

Toronto International Film Festival

  • Won: Visions Award - Special Citation

Cast

Translation into English of character's names that were nicknames are between parenthesis when applicable.

Music

The score to the film composed by Antonio Pinto (and his partner Ed Córtes) was followed by two Remix albums. Songs from the film:

References

External links

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