Sunday, April 26, 2009

World Movie Series - 22 - Citade De Deus

There is a lot of news these days about criminals. Are they born as criminals? However bad they might be, how do they become criminals and a menace to society? What is the root cause? If we start exploring their lives from their birth, there will be one moment – a single incident - which triggered the aftereffects. We will know that only from that incident, the person has transformed in to a criminal.

What if we witness the life of a criminal from his close quarters? What if we travel along with him in his life’s journey, witnessing every incident in his life?

‘City of God’ is one such film which excellently portrays the story of a young criminal ‘Li’l Zi’.

The film begins in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in the sixties. We see chickens getting prepared for a feast. Everywhere its music and joy and people – mostly teenagers and young boys - are in a state of madness. One chicken escapes from the feast, and people start to chase the chicken frantically. We see a teenage boy – ‘Li’’l Zi’ – whom we don’t have a clue about – chasing the chicken and starts shooting it with his gun. The chicken enters a narrow lane and on the other side, we see another teenager of the same age – walking with his friend. The friend tells this guy that he will be killed by ‘Li’l Zi’ once he sees him. Suddenly, there appears the chicken before this guy, and behind it, Li’l Zi with his gun.

Li’l Zi shouts at the guy to catch the chicken. Slowly, the bewildered guy moves to catch it when we see police cars arrive at his back – the other end of the street. Suddenly Li’l Zi and his men start cocking their weapons and the chicken catcher understands his predicament. He is caught in the middle of a war and anyways he will be shot.

While he is frozen in his bent position, we hear his voice at the background, telling that his name is Rocket, and how he got himself in to this awkward situation, is the story he is going to narrate.

The camera rotates around him, and when it completes a circle, we se a small Rocket – in his early years – bent in the same position. They are playing football. Rocket narrates the story of three gangsters – Rocket’s elder bro Goose, Clipper and Shaggy. They three are the young rebels in the City of God, the place in Janeiro where all the poor people and castaways live. The trio loots money from the rich and distributes it to the poor people in the livelihood and hence are always sheltered by the people.

The trio plans for a heist. To make big money – and Li’l Dice – a small boy – gives them an idea to loot the nearby motel. They go on, place Li’l Dice as the watchdog and while robbing the motel along with its inhabitants, hear a warning shot from Li’l Dice and flee. After a while, back in the city of god, they learn that many people were murdered in the motel. The police track down the trio and two of the trio dies. One guy joins the church.

We now are shown what happened in the motel. We see Li’l Dice fire the warning shot, and after the trio flees, he enters the motel, shoots everyone and runs away. While he is counting the money along with his friend Benny, we see Goose approaching them and forcefully taking all their money and while he walks away, gets shot by Li’l Dice and dies.

The period is the seventies now, and Li’l Dice has grown to be the don of that place – changing his name to Li’l Zi. Rocket too grows up, but he is afraid towards the criminals and joins college. He joins the hippy group in the college which enjoys smoking weed and drinking. We learn that Carrot, a local drug dealer, is the only opponent to Li’l Zi.

Li’l Zi’s friend Benny is the mastermind behind all his operations. At one point of time, Benny is tired of all the gangster stuff and decides to call it quits. He makes friends with the hippy gang and with Rocket. He gradually woos Rocket’s girl and after her advice, decides to quit the criminal game. He hosts a final party before he leaves, and in the party, gets shot by a man aiming at Li’l Zi and dies.

Li’l Zi knows that the murderer was sent by Carrot, his only opponent. While Li’l Zi marches towards Carrot’s place along with his gang, he witnesses a young girl walking along with her boyfriend, and since the girl ignores him, humiliates the boyfriend – named Knockout Ned – a kindhearted gentleman and rapes the girl in front of Ned.

He then attacks Ned’s house and kills his uncle too. A heartbroken Ned is approached by Carrot and ultimately he joins carrot’s gang. Then starts the bloodiest gang war the city has ever witnessed – Li’l Zi trying to wipe out Carrot and Carrot retaliating.

In the mean time, Rocket doesn’t want to stay in such a hell of a city and joins a news paper. Since the magazine publishes Carrot’s photographs, Li’l Zi is offended and he thinks his photograph should also be published so that the people will get to know who the real criminal is. Since Rocket is good with the camera, Li’l Zi sends word for Rocket and makes him to photograph him and his gang in various poses.

The pictures accidentally get published in the paper and Rocket is sure he will be killed by Li’l Zi. The next day, he is approached by the magazine to shoot more photographs of the gang war. Since they offer him good money, Rocket goes to the city with his camera, and it was at this situation when the chicken was chased by Li’l Zi and landed exactly in front of Rocket in the opening scene.

Seeing Rocket, Li’l Zi asks him to take the pictures of his gang again, and while Rocket prepares for the shot, the police arrive and the fight begins. Rocket flees from the place, hiding somewhere nearby and taking pictures of the fight. Knockout Ned is killed by a boy from his own gang whose father was killed by Ned in a bank robbery earlier.

The police capture Li’l Zi and Carrot and while Carrot is being taken to the station to be shown to the press, Li’l Zi is frisked and all the money he had is being stolen by the police. Rocket takes pictures of everything. After the police are gone, the local Runts – a pack of small children who were robbing the city earlier and who were thrashed by Li’l Zi - arrive and they shoot and kill Zi, as Zi has murdered one of their boys earlier while stopping them.

Rocket has photographed everything, and he thinks about publishing the photographs in his magazine. Since the photographs of the corrupt cops will bring him danger, he decides to publish the photographs of Li’l Zi alone.

While Rocket is walking, we see the Runts talking about the people in the city who have to be killed, and they make a list. The film ends here.

‘City of God’ - a Portuguese film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Co-directed by Kátia Lund, is a strikingly made film about the young boys becoming in to gangsters. It has been filmed based on a Portuguese novel by the same name. Most of the actors were local lads.

The film features so many innovative attempts with the camera and editing and is said to be the trendsetter in these areas. It features many superb non-linear scenes – like the scene where the flashback begins, the scenes where Rocket tells the story of the motel heist, the scenes which shows how Li’l Zi became the local don eliminating his opponents etc.. The lighting is excellent, followed by the realistic music.

The film was not actually shot in Cidade de Deus (city of God) slum as it was too dangerous. It was shot in a neighboring, less dangerous area. Most of the cast were local lads. From initially about the year 2000, about a hundred children and youths were hand-picked and placed into an "actors' workshop" for several months. In contrast to more traditional methods (e.g. studying theatre and rehearsing), it focused on simulating authentic street war scenes, such as a hold-up, a scuffle, a shoot-out etc. A lot came from improvisation, as it was thought better to create an authentic, gritty atmosphere. This way, the inexperienced cast soon learned to move and act naturally.

City of God is now at the 17th place in the IMDB’s list of top 250 movies ever and it was also chosen by Times in its list of 100 top movies. A very realistic film indeed, City of God is a wonderful film.

See the trailer here.

Thanks to IMDB and Wikipedia for providing the trivia about the movie.


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