Cidade de Deus (City of God), a 2002 film based on a novel of the same name, is probably one of the most popular and well-known Brazilian movies. Along with receiving four Academic Award nominations in 2004 (for Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Editing and Best Writing), City of God was ranked No. 6 on The Guardian’s “25 Best Action Movies Ever” and also made the cut for Time Magazine‘s “100 greatest films of all time.” Basically, it’s a must-see.
The film takes place in the ’60s and shows the evolution of the drug trade and organized crime in a particular favela (slum) of Rio, called City of God. It portrays the lives of two boys, one of whom becomes a photographer and the other who becomes a drug dealer.
Many find it hard to believe that the film is largely based on true events; in an interview with The Hollywood Interview, Meirelles said that,
The drug dealers really control the [slums.] That’s why I decided to do the film. Not because of the action, because I don’t like action films at all. But because of the anthropological approach. To show how these societies are organized, how they took the first steps which led to where they are today. Because today, it’s even worse. Today, all the slums of Rio are controlled by drug dealers. and the film tries to explain how it all started.
To complement this “anthropological approach,” most of the actors in the movie were actually non-actors, taken directly from the favelas where they lived and taught how to act specifically for the movie. As Meirelles explains, this caused a slight problem after the movie was finished, as he then felt responsible for these people with whom he had developed a relationship with. So he moved several of the boys out of the favelas, and, after discovering that three of the other former actors had started hanging out with drug dealers again, he took them with him to Sao Paulo, “just to try to keep them out” of the favelas.
Despite the use of non-actors in the film, the acting is some of the best I have ever seen. Perhaps this is because, instead of being fed lines, the actors actually improvised most of the movie. City of God thus provides a startlingly realistic portrayal of slum-life in Rio, and as Alex Simon and Terry Keefe of The Hollywood Interview state,
The film also had a strong social message, particularly in regards to how cycles of violence get started in poor neighborhoods, not just in Brazil, but worldwide.
Here is official trailer (I was unable to find one with English subtitles, but hopefully you at least get the jist of it…):
Intrigued yet? Well, brace yourself, because while it is an amazing film, City of God is both incredibly violent and disturbing. And unlike so many Hollywood movies, you can’t just walk away knowing that it’s fiction. Because unfortunately, the story of City of God is a reality for many who inhabit the slums of Rio.