From the famed Paulo Lins’ novel, adapted by Braulio Mantovani, The City of God is a truthful film of human nature played out within squalor not that far removed from wealth. The setting, within the confines of one of the world’s most playfully recreational cities, Rio de Janeiro, excepting for momentary contrasts, focuses purely on the high crime area of subsidized housing on the city’s outskirts. Given up on by the more prosperous, the area has come to a social impasse with the rest of Rio and, for the most part, is left to its own devices. That is, until an open war breaks out between two rival gangs, each set upon complete territorial dominance.
The City of God, however, is a story beautifully woven out of personal lives, how those lives move in and out of the undercurrents supplied by this struggle, and how the choices made resolve in such things as singular pursuit of power and revenge, to survival and just coping. How, above all, those choices can be all too easily made by some, almost suicidally.
Subtitles are well done (necessary unless you are fluent in Portuguese) and the movie is so well structured it is easy to follow. Even the sometimes complicated flashbacks which answer fully what the film’s chronology does not, are easily grasped since they are provided at places where the viewer might need them most. As the film develops this becomes so well timed, the device is almost anticipatory. This is very important since the cast of characters is vast.
When we examine closely such almost clinically enclosed microcosms we find almost all the elements in common with our own settings. And we understand our own better. If they are truthful, they become to us like the moral play of earlier times, something to assure us the dictates of conscience and decency have far more reaching benefit than the parental assurances we come to take for granted. In this way, this movie succeeds better than any this reviewer has seen for it goes so much deeper than stereotype, so much more emphatically into stories covering the full spectrum of human nature. Almost as if it’s directors, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund were committed to doing Lins’ novel complete justice.
What we come to place values upon is far more impacting to our children than we many times care to acknowledge. Just how early the results can tend to undermine culture and its sole justification to exist, socialization, becomes this film’s prime importance. In today’s globalist world, the monsters an uncaring environment can create in Russia, the Middle East, as well as Rio, can very well become those running drugs, prostitution, etc., etc. on your own streets. Even in far more brutal manner than what is portrayed in this movie.
Parents of children should see this movie, but not the children.