Hands up once again, I’m real late to the party, but when a film gets everything as right as Lund and Firmino’s 2002 film City of God then I really don’t care. City of God is a cinematic tale as old as time; money, power, family and class, wrapped up within the story of Rocket, an aspiring photographer, and resident of the ‘City of God ‘ slum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro in 1960s/70s Brazil.
The directors, Katia Lund and Leandro Firmino, have truely achieved something remarkable here. City of God has an effortless realism that, in less skilled hands, could have looked aesthetically forced. From the acting and cinematography, to the script and music, every cinematic aspect enriches the story. Also, despite the alienating subject matter, the film succeeds in creating heroes and villains amongst a morally-removed society, that is undoubtedly foreign to the majority of the audience. Credit should be given to the faultless direction; Lund and Firmino made confident choices with the rough-and-ready film making style that complimented the tone on screen whilst maintaining an artistic quality and integrity, all the while not alienating or distancing. The Brazil we see is whole, tangible and vibrant with a colour pallet that is earthy, hot and alive. The 2007, Brazilian movie, Elite Squad, pays homage to the success and strength of City of God by shadowing the style; close ups, shaky camera shots, a first person narrative, as well as exploring the same subject matter. For me City of God still has the edge.
The violence is unrelenting and the world hostile yet the film manages to give specific motivations to each character, and brings an empathy to all that makes this film stand out from its counterparts. It’s easy to create two dimensional villains in order to engage an audience to get behind a protagonist; here, it’s smart, important and ultimately rewarding to be presented with a ‘villain’ that is human and as broken as everyone else in the film.
City of god has an effortless grace and style that occurs when there is honesty in the material and competent hands behind the wheel. This is a film that has a sincerity and authenticity that radiates from start to finish. Exciting, exhilarating and emotional. City of God is film making of the highest standard.