There are few films that have instantly captivated me with merely a single scene. With only a glimpse of the grimy, gritty beauty of the cinematography and the brutal, intense nature of the violence, I was immediately riveted by Fernando Meirelles’s masterpiece, City of God. Easily one of the most recognizable foreign films today, God authentically captures the violent reality of the slums in Rio de Janeiro during the early 80’s.
Often referred to as the Brazillian Pulp Fiction, the film tells the story of two growing men over the course of a decade. The comparisons to Pulp Fiction pertains to the out of order manner it unfolds in and similar to that film, it sections each story off by a specific character’s situation. However, the film mainly follows the life of Rocket and Lil Ze’. The two men’s lives couldn’t be anymore different, yet they always seem to connect at some point or another.
Lil’ Ze divulges into thivery and murder, while Rocket does everything in his power to escape that life, which eventually leads to his fascination and love for photography. Lil Ze’ and Rocket are ultimately connected by people such as Knockout Ned and many other supporting characters, which, once again, comes back to Pulp Fiction.
Although it seems unfair to compare City of God to Pulp Fiction because they are so drastically different in subject matter and style, I would argue that City of God is far more resonant and memorable. Not once during this rapid-fire film did I question believability or realism. Each and every performance is so spot on that not once did I questioned whether or not these people inhabited this chaotic neighborhood. Although I take in to account that actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are worldwide celebrities, the actors here are so seamless that it felt more like a documentary than a written screenplay.
The cinematography by Cesar Chalone elevates the film to another level. You can see every scar, every scab, and every wound with frightening clarity and it immensely assists the movie in capturing that documentary-like feel. The screenplay by Braulio Mantovani is nowhere near comparable to Tarantino’s dialogue but the balance between the many characters is nearly unmatched. Each character, no matter how minimal a role, is defined and fleshed out. And amidst all this, is Fernando Meirelles, who handles the chaos in such a professional, focused manner. This is his crowning achievement (even though, The Constant Gardner, his second film is also very good) and I greatly anticipate his next film.
One would assume that there would be a weak link in the string of multiple storylines but like Soderbergh’s masterful Traffic, there isn’t one second that isn’t completely involving or utterly horrifying. City of God isn’t an easy film to watch but it is by far one of greatest films I have ever seen.