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Foreign films scare me. Leisurely having to do two things at once is not really my style and most assuredly not simultaneously reading while watching a movie. I’m not going to lie, subtitles are a little bit distracting for me, although slowly but surely I am washing away this hard headed pet peeve of mine, and thankfully so. Otherwise I would never have been able to enjoy the totally brilliant cinematic experience known as City of God.
I hate to jump on the bandwagon but City of God definitely earned every one of its Academy Award nominations. If it wasn’t for Peter Jackson’s final Lord of the Rings installment, The Return of the King, up against them in all four categories (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Director), City of God might have deservedly taken home at least one Oscar.
There’s just something about gritty movies screwing around with continuity that works - I don’t know what it is, but it works. Centering around a photographer named Rocket (Rodrigues), City of God is a chronicle of events that occur over the course of around twenty years in a poverty stricken community called “Cidade de Deus”(or City of God to us English speaking folk), located in the shadow of Rio de Janeiro. Rocket’s life is sewn throughout the entire evolution of Cidade de Deus. He even tells us in his initial voice over that in order to completely tell his story he’d have to tell a bunch of stories so you can even get his story. If the first ten minutes of the movie hooks you, then the remaining two hours will haunt you.
City of God should be required viewing for any actor below the age of thirteen as a guide for child acting. Did you like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense? Well two-thirds of this cast makes Haley Joel look like he has the acting capability of a cereal box. Little Dice (Silva) so completely sells the fact that he’s a cold little bastard as a child that once you see him all grown up as Li’l Zé (Firmino da Hora) you instantly know he’s not the guy to mess with. Also requiring mention are the group of kids that play “The Runts”. When coldly confronted by Li’l Zé, these kids are so believably in the moment it’s astounding. And the look on the face of the one kid who survives that confrontation will haunt me for weeks. It was just too real.
Rocket is never tempted to join the ranks of the hoods or dealers in Cidade de Deus. Even after Little Dice guns down his older brother, he takes no vengeance. Rocket is just doing what he needs to do to get by. All he wants to do is have the occasional joint, and hopefully get laid. Even as the war between rival dealers Little Zé and Carrot (Nachtergaele) gets under full swing, Rocket is there with camera in hand.
The script is brilliant. What would normally be tripe and cliché dialogue between drug dealers and slum dwellers actually sounds quite poetic in Brazilian Portuguese. The cinematography has that gritty Black Hawk Down kind of vibe - That kind of vibe that immediately insinuates how chaotic and hot it is in the given situation. The editing couldn’t have been more perfect. Since The Godfather Part II started the trend, messing with continuity for a desired effect has worked more times then not, and it definitely works for City of God. And the Direction... a director is only as good as his crew, and with a bang up screenplay, flawless cinematography, rock solid performances, and an insanely well cut final product... Fernando Meirelles would have gotten my vote for Best Director too.
Now I understand Peter Jackson and all his New Zealand buddies were due for a big pay off. But in my mind Oscar bait like A Beautiful Mind and Chicago really made the Academy screw the pooch here, because City of God needs to be praised by non-critics so as to make it more available for people to see. Is it the best film I've ever seen? No. But it is definitely the best, most raw piece of pure filmmaking I have seen this century. City of God is a film that NEEDS to be experienced by anyone and everyone who has ever claimed that they like movies.
In other regions, City of God has gotten the proper DVD treatment, but I can understand why here in good ol’ Region 1 we’re getting the shaft. A commentary in Brazilian Portuguese would be pushing it a bit for a U.S. release. The one feature the Region 1 disk does include is a fifty plus minute documentary entitled "News From A Personal War". The documentary focuses on the real situations going on in modern day Rio slums like Cidade de Deus. It’s harsh and insightful, almost as much so as the actual film itself, although without any real narrative thread.
Other than that little documentary there is absolutely no other feature on this disc. Miramax isn’t really known for gypping people, especially on Oscar nominated flicks, but Harvey Wienstien and his home video crew definitely screwed us all over on this one.
The best special feature on this disc is the film itself. It stands alone, although it would’ve been a little nice to get a few more extras. But don’t worry folks, I'm sure that time was spent on Miramax’s other Oscar-screwed film Cold Mountain, which gets itself a hefty 2-disc special edition. Something tells me Reneé Zellwegger needs a to have a little visit from Li’l Zé. He’ll straighten her little puppy face out good and proper!
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