Built in the 1960s the City of God has by the 1980s become a very dangerous place to live. A lack of opportunities and hope often leads the children of the City of God onto a path of drugs crime and corruption and it seems more palatable to many of them to have their 15 minutes of fame and die young than to live a life of misery and submission. But some manage to break the cycle of violence--and the main character and narrator of City of God Buscapé (Alexandre Rodrigues) is one of them. A poor black youth who leaves a life of crime behind to become a professional photographer Buscapé must struggle against the odds to make his way through the violence that surrounds him shooting pictures instead of people and finding redemption in his artistic vision. As his story unfolds we meet others in his world: his friend Bene (Phelipe Haagensen) the most popular guy in the slum and a partner in crime to Zé Pequeno (Leandro Firmino) an ambitious and powerful villain who wants to be the slum's drug leader; and Mané Galinha (Seu Jorge) who tries very hard to have a decent life but ultimately gets dragged deep into crime.
With few exceptions real slum kids and actors from local amateur drama clubs were cast in City of God and the result is truly believable characters and a gritty realistic film. The richness of details slang and backgrounds are a true portrait of a Brazilian slum where people live on little more than hope for a better future. Firmino Rodrigues and Douglas Silva (Dadinho) do a wonderful job of acting out a fiction that is indeed their lived reality.
Brazil's entry for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award director Fernando Meirelles' (Domesticas) City of God is seen as a very strong contender for the prize--and well it should be. The quick cuts and fast pace of the editing goes a long way toward visually portraying the violence of the streets as does the lighting which evolves over time from the warm colors of the naïve and happy childhood years to the dark anguished shadows of streets that grow ever more violent. The mosaic of stories in the screenplay also works to bring the various aspects of the slum vividly to life so that the setting actually becomes a mute character as the drama unfolds.