Socialist Worker

City of violence, despair and hope

by Roger Cox
Issue No. 1834

CITY OF God is a powerful film that every reader of Socialist Worker should make an effort to see. It is a Brazilian film with subtitles, but don't let that put you off. The 'City of God' is the name of a run-down slum, called a favela, on the edges of the giant Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.

The film explores the lives of people who had to live there through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The film techniques echo those of Hollywood movies from Goodfellas to Pulp Fiction and it draws on documentary traditions too. Many of the film's cast are not professional actors but people who live in the conditions portrayed.

The film has a sharp tempo and keeps you focused as the stories bring together the hopes and despair of the people in the favela. Trapped in desperate poverty, their only ways forward are to find a job to escape the slum or, as most young men do, join a drugs gang. The main story is centred on two young men.

One wants to be a photographer. The other becomes the violent gang leader. The film records the almost endless violence that marks life in the city. In one instance, a child shoots all the people in a brothel dead, following a raid to relieve the clients of their money.

The raid on the brothel was the child's idea, but his older brother and his gang forced him to be the lookout instead of joining the raid. The murders are his revenge for that.

Following this the child grows to become the principal gang leader in the city. Side by side with the bloodletting are the hopes and expectations of the young people in the slum.

It is the balancing of these two sides of the city that drives the film along. I remember another Brazilian film made in the 1980s set in the favela of Santa Marta. It has none of the drama, pace and impact of City of God.

It does show, though, the vast range of popular movements that held life together in the slums, from work parties and different religions, to samba groups.

It shows a collective response to the problems people faced. This side of life is not shown in City of God. People's hopes in Brazil today are high with the election of the Workers Party's Lula as president.

I hope that the picture City of God so powerfully reflects is only a partial truth, and that there are movements in the favelas ready to fight for another world. But don't miss this wonderful film.

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Sat 18 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1834
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