A review of “City of God” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ****

Rating: R for excessive gore, violence, language, disturbing images.  In Portuguese with English subtitles.

Run Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes



This is the one to beat for end-of-the-year top ten honors.  Brazil’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film stings like an acid bath and packs a wallop of gritty emotion.

This flawless ode to slum warfare takes place in one of Rio de Janeiro’s darkest recesses, a grim shantytown (favela) affectionately known as Cidade de Deus (City of God).  Already saturated in poverty and despair, the City’s residents struggle to survive as drug trade and organized crime gain a foothold.  The earliest “gang”, known as the Tender Trio, gets their kicks from basic highway robbery that nets them cash and cachet. For the next generation, the simple fix isn’t enough.

Told from the point of view of sensitive teenager Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) “City of God” weaves a narrative spell that flashes forward and back from the late 1960s through to the tumultuous 1980s.  Rocket is the point man throughout, a gentle soul and emotional anchor with a happy trigger finger that yearns to maneuver a camera lens instead of a gun.

Drawn into a never-ending cycle of violence, we are summarily introduced to the lowest form of unconscionable scum Brazil has to offer.  Lil Zé (Leandro Firmino da Hora), whose obsession with power leads him and his gang of pre-pubescent thugs to callously kill off the competition. Red-headed Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele), whose burgeoning drug trade sparks a chain of events that give sanguineous meaning to business rivalry. And Zé’s partner in crime, Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), who discovers too late that the vortex of murderous rage is not to his liking.

Pulsing with the seductive rhythms of Brazil while vibrating atop blood-soaked terra firma, “God” isn’t an easy watch.  A heady surplus of gloriously catchy technique underpins cruel substance – hapless addicts, children killing children, and a bitter thirst for revenge.  But beneath the surface carnage lies a surprisingly uplifting spirit, tinged with humor, laughter, and hope. 

Authenticity rules the screen.  Shot in the midst of Brazil’s vicious favelas, “God” stars real life baby-hoods improvising their way through scenarios they (unfortunately) know best. Visually stunning and socially relevant, “City of God” is simply unforgettable.