City of God (2002)
This is a stunning and brutal film that surges with intensity. It's the story of life on the streets in the slums around Rio de Janiero. It's based on actual events and the fact that someone is murdered there every half hour, mostly by a large calibre firearm. It's about children growing up with poverty, guns, and drugs all around them, and how they are easily drawn into lives of violence and crime. The film is unrelenting as it focuses on the trajectory of a few kids who end up taking very different and dramatic paths to adulthood.
The film has an amazing style as the camera twists and turns with motion. The acting is intense. The structure of the film is very inventive as it goes back and forth in time telling the background stories of various characters. For example, at one point, we are looking at the interior of the apartment of a drug dealer, and suddenly a text line appears on the screen "the story of the apartment". The film rewinds back in time, and then zips through an amazing montage depicting the evolution of the apartment, including the activities of the people who lived and died there over the years. Incredible. It is also very funny at times, which may be hard to believe given the subject.
It took me some time to build up the nerve to see this film. But when the right mood hit and the right mix of people were there to watch it, it was an amazing cinematic experience for everyone. Note: It's a Brazilian film, in Portugese and subtitled.
By John Farr