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'City of God'

Film Clips: A roundup of new releases

Friday, March 14, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The most shocking thing about the Brazilian movie "City of God" is not the endemic violence of its setting so much as the age of the people who perpetrate it.

'City of God'

RATING: R for strong brutal violence, sexuality, drug content and language

STARRING: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Seu Jorge

DIRECTOR: Fernando Meirelles

WEB SITE: cidadededeus.globo.com


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Based on a true story and set in an area established to keep the poor people of Rio de Janeiro from being encountered by the rich ones, "City of God" depicts the rise and fall (in this case, one and the same thing) of Rio's most dangerous slum, or favela, and the people who live there.

Kinetically directed by Fernando Meirelles, the movie tells its story through the eyes of Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), a rare neutral in the favela drug wars, which are dominated by the vicious teenager Li'l Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora). We meet Ze as a child, when he is called Li'l Dice but affirms his bloody ambitions in one of the many striking scenes that ups the ante for the young gangsters in the City of God.

Rocket, who wants to be a photographer, becomes our entree to the other key players in the drama, including Ze's friend Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), who helps moderate Ze's violence, and rival drug-dealer Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele, one of the few professional actors in the film).

The movie's three acts begin in the 1960s, when City of God was a remote housing project dominated mostly by teenage robbers who shared their loot with the community. The '70s marks the rise of Li'l Ze and the urbanization of the favela. The last part finds Ze challenged by Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge), a peaceful man forced to violence who comes to revel in it.

The final moments of the film show what the future might look like, and it isn't hopeful even in a place where many figure on not surviving through their teens.

Meirelles leavens his material with a pulp approach -- a propulsive momentum, quick cuts, a swirling camera and often unexpected black humor. He even borrows from one of the hoariest Hollywood traditions, the gangster film about friends who take different paths in life -- one good, the other bad.

Maybe this is why I felt more dazzled by his technique than emotionally connected to his characters. But "City of God" makes its point, jabbing at you as it bobs and weaves through its narrative.

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