Top Ten World Cinema #10: City of God

City of God

My love affair with world cinema began nearly a decade ago when I watched French hit, Amelie (2001). Previously I had been reluctant to watch any film with subtitles, worried that it would hinder my enjoyment of the film. How wrong was I to be so naive? Since Amelie I have spent more time in the world cinema section at HMV than any other part of the shop and enjoyed a range of films from South America, Africa, Europe and East Asia. Discussing all my favourites would take many blogs but over the next ten days I will share what are currently, for me, the Top Ten World Cinema films. The standard of world cinema is very high with such gems as Ikiru (1952) and Let The Right One In (2008) missing out on the Top Ten. For those of you that haven’t tried world cinema I hope some of these films will be of interest. Those of you that are veterans in this field, I’m sure you won’t agree with all of my choices but I’ve no doubt you’ll appreciate a celebration of what is often an overlooked section in DVD shops.  

City of God (2002)

City of GodBased on a true story, Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund’s City of God depicts the brutal world of drug dealing and gun battles in the midst of a city where dying young is not uncommon. A hard-hitting but equally brilliant film, City of God is uncompromising in its portrayal of two boys – Rocket and Lil Dice – that grow up in the City of God during the Sixties and by the Seventies have taken completely different paths. Lil Dice has immersed himself in the violent world of drug warfare while Rocket wishes to be free of the city and to pursue his dream of photography.

The film begins with the story of the Tender Trio that commits small robberies in the city but are generous in sharing their ill-gotten gains so no harm comes to them when the authorities arrive asking questions of the locals. Lil Dice, though only a boy, inspires the gang to rob a nearby hotel but when they reach their target, the Tender Trio leave a frustrated Lil Dice as lookout while they proceed with the robbery. After Lil Dice breaks a window to signal the retreat, the Tender Trio makes their escape while Lil Dice enters the hotel and murders everyone inside before seemingly disappearing. The film’s focus on the Sixties ends with the Tender Trio meeting their ends with one, Goose (Rocket’s brother), murdered by Lil Dice after he tries to rob the boy of money he and best friend Benny have earned from their own crimes.

In the Seventies City of God sees Lil Dice, now known as Lil Ze (Leandro Firmino), join with best friend Benny (Phelippe Haagensen) in taking over the businesses of every drug dealer in the city, save one, Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele). He is spared by Benny who is the only one capable of holding Lil Ze back from complete carnage. While Lil Ze becomes more powerful as the head of a wide network of drug dealing, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) is focussed on being a photographer and losing his virginity. A temporary peace in the City of God is broken when Benny, who has since become the coolest guy in the city, decides to leave the drug business with his girlfriend and live in isolation on a farm. When Benny is shot and killed, Lil Ze has no reason to hold back in bringing a war onto rival drug dealer, Carrot.

The image of young children wandering the streets wielding guns is difficult to comprehend and some of the atrocities committed by the brutal Lil Ze are hard to stomach and leave nothing to the imagination. Though a gritty film it is impossible not to be enthralled. Rocket’s survival and how he brought the events of the City of God to the rest of the world is an amazing story. It’s a brilliant reflection of the fiercely competitive world of drug dealing and, with anyone potentially being ousted every day, the film will keep you guessing right up until the gripping conclusion when Lil Ze and Carrot’s frequent gun fights and skirmishes throughout the city finally erupt into one final, decisive battle.

Top Ten so far:-

10) City of God

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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