City of God (Cidade de deus)

City of God

If you run away, they get you… and if you stay, they get you too.

I’ll admit I have a propensity to laud praise on a film that is technically brilliant, even if it falls somewhat short in the story department. So, when a film like City of God comes along, that is not only technically one of the best films I’ve seen in a long, long while, but also tells a hell of a story, I’m left in the unique position of just how much praise should I give it. This is another foreign film that I’d heard of long before I found the list; it was that critically acclaimed, and easily entered cinema’s storied lexicon. Once again, just like the other amazing foreign films I’d known of before the list, now that I’ve seen it, I completely get why it became so popular.

The film tells the story of a bunch of self-professed hoodlums living in a small city-suburb of Rio de Janeiro called Cidade de Deus, or City of God; their beginnings as children, how they came to power, and the struggles of how they try and consolidate and hold onto their power. Interestingly enough, the story is told not through one of the hoodlums, but by Rocket, a wannabe photographer who is largely exempt from the criminal lifestyle the rest of the menagerie of characters happily take part in, but still finds himself involved in the proceedings simply by virtue of living in the City of God. So, what exactly does this film get right? Would you hold it against me if I merely said the word “everything” and left it at that? Because there wasn’t a thing wrong with this film. At all. The story was engaging the whole way through, the script was excellent, the acting from the non-professional actors was superbly believable. And the technicals; my god, the technicals. It has been so long since I’ve seen a film that really knew how to grasp and hold interest through the use of its editing that I only now realized how much I’d become jaded by the other films that I’ve seen that aren’t half as good with their editing style as City of God is. This film doesn’t just cut to the beginning of each shot, wait until the action and dialogue have finished, and then cut to the next shot; every shot in this is interwoven with the shots before it, after it, and the rest of the scene, almost as if the editor were composing a symphony rather than merely piecing together reels of frames just so the story can be told. It’s pretty rare for a foreign film to get Oscar nominations outside the Foreign Language category, but when it happens, you had damn well pay attention to that film; City of God got nominations for not only its editing, but its cinematography (which was fantastic, knowing how to use a handheld camera instead of just using a handheld camera), its screenplay, and for its director, Fernando Meirelles. Take note again of the categories; these aren’t the bare technical categories like Art Direction or Costume Design, these are major categories, and City of God earned every one of them. It’s frankly a wonder this didn’t get nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, but a fun factoid: it was only eligible for that award in the year before, and had it gotten that nomination, it wouldn’t have gotten the four nominations it did get the year after, so it was really a blessing in disguise.

Seriously, the only thing I could hold against the film was that the story didn’t really break any new ground; there are stories of this kind fairly frequently on the list, and certainly all over the realm of cinema. But, if I can be frank, none of them do it nearly as well as City of God. For every film that tells this story, before and after 2002, they either were building up to this masterful achievement, or they are merely trying to swim in its wake. City of God is the pinnacle of this kind of story. The top. Bar none. See this film. You pretty much owe it to yourself to do so at least once in your lifetime; if not for the story, than to see how to make such a well done and well put together film that people everywhere will be calling it perfection. I don’t know if it is perfect, but as of right now I seriously cannot think of any reason why it wouldn’t be.

Arbitrary Rating: 10/10


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