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City of God (2002)

Cidade de Deus

15 miles from man will do anything to tell the world everything.

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 130 minutes

UK Certificate: 18


Alexandre Rodrigues stars as Busca-Pé or ‘Rocket’, a boy who lives in the Cidade de Deus or City of God, a 1960s favela (housing project) in Rio de Janeiro. The favela is home to the poorest and most desperate of Rio’s citizens and becomes a haven of violence and crime. As a child, Busca-Pé watches the infamous Tender Trio – a group of older boys – robbing motels and gas trucks. As he grows up, he sees his peers graduate from being petty thieves through drug dealers into cold-blooded killers. In time, vicious gang leader Li’l Ze (Leandro da Hora) and his companions prosper and come to rule much of the favela.

A little too sensitive and scared to become a real violent criminal, Busca-Pé finds himself at the centre of the favela’s action, but separate from it. As he grows older, he begins to understand that he sees things differently. Fascinated by cameras and photography, he eventually acquires a camera of his own, and his photographs come to the attention of a local newspaper. As the last two remaining favela gangs do battle in the 1980s, Busca-Pé takes some of the only photographs that the press will see of the events that take place and the people involved. Through his camera and his special perspective on favela life, he seeks to document and explain what life is really like for the poorest people in Rio.

Based on a true story, ‘City of God’ is a tale that has impact not just because of the level of violence it portrays but the fact that the violence is merely a reflection of real events. The cinematic values are extremely high, with the director making the most of real favela children to fill much of his cast. All the main cast do a truly convincing job, and really seem to belong in their environment. The film looks wonderful, gritty and authentic, exposing the raw side of Rio life. The story is violent and laden with death, but oddly enough still seems to offer a message of hope by the time it reaches its conclusion.

Also known by its Portuguese title ‘Cidade de Deus’, the film is based on the novel by Paulo Lins who spent decades living in the favela himself.

It's Got: Bags of authenticity.

It Needs: An English-dubbed version to make it accessible to wider audiences, although doubtless that would fail to live up to the subtitled version.


Gripping and authentic true story of life amongst Rio’s forgotten poor, where violence is a way of life even amongst children. Not to be missed.