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03.24.2005

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flick pick | City of God [Cidade de Deus] 2002
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles, KŠtia Lund
Written by: Paulo Lins (novel), BrŠulio Mantovani (screenplay)
Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva
Language: Portugese [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under: foreign [Brazil], drama
Watch it when youíre in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, hip, serious, true?!?
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis In a favela (ghetto) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, constructed by the city government to keep the poor isolated and out of sight from the wealthier denizens of city center, two young boys, Rocket and L'il Dice, grow up in the same slum but take very different paths. The story begins in the 1960s, when Rocket's and L'il Dice's older brothers join up with a third friend to form a small gang -- partly out of boredom, partly out of brotherhood, partly out of a way to survive. They call themselves the Tender Trio, and they're the envy of all the younger boys in the slum. Still, though they fancy themselves bad to the bone, their crimes are relatively small-time. Until the night they break into a brothel with the intent to steal some money. It's a plan hatched by L'il Dice, who has gang ambitions of his own, and things go horribly awry. The three flee back to the ghetto with the cops on their tail, convinced that L'il Dice, who they'd commanded to stay back as lookout, has already been nabbed. As it turns out, L'il Dice is the real badass amongst them, and his betrayal of the trio on that night marks the end of the original gang, and the beginning of L'il Dice's own ascent in the criminal life. Rocket, meanwhile, stays firmly on the fringes of gang life. He's the smart one, the sensitive one; at an early age, his gangster brother makes him promise to stay away from his gun and find a real way out of this life. As he grows up, Rocket stays friends with the neighborhood's many gangsters, hanging out with the crowd, buying pot from their dealers. But Rocket never gets involved in the darker dealings, the ruthless drug business takeovers and brutal bloody murders; he just watches from the sidelines without ever judging. It's this penchant for watching that leads Rocket to pick up a camera for the first time, and he soon begins dreaming of becoming a photojournalist. Meanwhile, L'il Dice, now reborn as L'il Ze, has risen to the very top of favela social hierarchy and become the most powerful gang lord in the city.

Review Barring the obvious subtitles, City of God doesn't feel anything like the artsy little foreign flick I was expecting when I added it to my DVD rental queue without knowing all that much about it, except that it was supposed to be good. Yes, City of God is very good indeed, fantastic in fact; this is the kind of movie that has you glued to its story the whole time you're watching it unfold onscreen, and lingers in your mind long afterwards. It's big and bold, a real epic, with a sweeping story arc and rich character development that gets you deeply involved with what's happening to the individual protagonists, even as you get the sense that this story stands for something greater than just a story about a couple of kids from the streets. Stylistically, too, the movie knocks you out. It uses shaky handheld camerawork the way it's meant to be used, not just for cool cred but to create a genuine sense of gritty realism; this, combined with the very funky Brazilian samba-soul soundtrack, plunges the viewer straight into the streets of 60s-70s Rio de Janeiro. City of God has been described as a sort of Goodfellas set in Brazil, and in scope, theme and storytelling flair, it's a good comparison. But City of God is also unlike any other movie you've ever seen, providing a riveting glimpse into a world that your average American is unlikely to ever encounter, even if you should be so lucky as to have the opportunity to travel to Rio itself.  óreviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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