Celluloid Lane: City of God

city of god-small.bmpRuntime: 130 minutes. Rated R.

Note to self: remember that when you tell everyone you're going to start writing movie reviews, you should.

Moving on....

I'm a fan of foreign movies. The less predictable and blockbusteresque (yes, I made that word up), the better. And subtitles... you either love 'em or you hate 'em. I love 'em. Come on now. I hear rotten, ugly English all day long. Let's listen to somebody else!

And so I embraced Brazilian Portuguese, during "Cidade de Deus� (City of God). Heather and I caught it at the Red Vic a couple weeks ago as it made its final rounds through the city. By the way, The Red Vic has this incredible popcorn topped with Brewer's Yeast in lieu of fake butter and salt. Just one taste, and you'll be a believer.

Back to the flick.

It begins in the 60s. We are introduced to a group of youths growing up in what looks much like the slummiest of army barracks, which is actually a huge housing development built to accomodate the large number of country folk who've migrated to Rio de Janeiro in search of something better... the "City of God."

We become familiar with great poverty... though while the scene is certainly forlorn, it's not as hideous as your mind might concoct a Brazilian ghetto to be. What's more apparent is an abundance of young children who walk with pistols, rob their neighbors, and have an overall apathy for human existance. Bad news, but you always kind of knew this sort of thing existed, right?

The story steers us toward a group of boys growing up in the City of God.  They chase girls, they play soccer, they laugh at the sorts of things little kids find amusing, but they also carry guns. A teenage trio from the pack, in an effort to steal more efficiently, decides to rob a nearby hotel. They bring one of their younger brothers along to keep watch outside (policemen, however corrupt, are still a source of concern). Unfortunately, the young boy is inexplicably bloodthirsty, and what begins as a simple robbery turns into a scene of mass homicide. It's an unbelievably brutal way to start things off.

These initial scenes set the tone for what's to come in the next two decades (the film is split into 3 total). Our only real hero, Rocket, grows up shunning the hood life (he loves photography, hallelujah!). But he's still intertwined in the lives of his childhood playmates- now vicious, murdering drug lords who keep the cops at bay and the neighborhood in fear. Much as he tries to avoid the violence, he keeps getting sucked in. He hones his journalistic skills by documenting the gangster life surrounding him, though escape is never an option. You are either with the gang, or you are with the other gang.

Sounds bleak? It is. Don't expect things to get better around the City of God. These soulless youths lower your faith in mankind's ability to pull itself out of one very miserable funk. Greed, pride, and ignorance are powerful weapons, never more obvious than in this story. This is a tale of children, aging without parents, schooling, or discipline, who choose the most lucrative paths they can to scramble atop a cesspool of forgotten faces. And believe it or not, drugs aren't even really the problem.

I won't get too involved in the details of the plot- I think I've told you enough to come to your own conclusions about how a jig like this might end...and did I mention it's a true story? And have I forgotten to tell you that I really enjoyed "City of God?" I did. Sometimes a pathetic tale is just recreated beautifully. The no-frills, honest method will always bring my desensitized little heart to tears most genuinely.

I've got to hand it to those in charge of casting this film. There are 6, 7 year old actors who will have you convinced they've got what it takes to be the next top dog in crime. It's remarkable, and frightening.

Cinematography fans will agree "City of God" does the gritty thing flawlessly, reminiscent of the Tijuana scenes from "Traffic" with their yellowy, sallow filters. I wish I could tell you what I thought of the musical score, but it didn't leave an impression. Perhaps the subject matter left no room to appreciate it. I did eat all my popcorn, if that matters.

Well? Let's talk about it!