Magazine article Newsweek International

Suffocating in the Slums

Magazine article Newsweek International

Suffocating in the Slums

Article excerpt

Early in "City Of God," the new Brazilian feature film about drugs and thugs, a cherub-cheeked youngster presents his credentials to the local gang boss. "I've robbed, assaulted, snorted [cocaine] and killed," he boasts. "I'm a man." The line provokes nervous laughter; in Fernando Meirelles' jolting new film about the mean streets of Rio de Janeiro, these pass as survival skills.

Based on a 1997 novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, "City" captures the early years of a Rio housing project known as Cidade de Deus (City of God), created in the late '60s to absorb refugees from an epic flood. In time, the soldierly rows of homes dissolve into a chaotic, jerry-built jumble. Penny-ante crime escalates into an outright drug war. Throughout the 135-minute film, our gaze rarely strays beyond the scruffy confines of the favela, or shantytown. But it would be hard to miss the larger tragedy hulking just out of focus: "City of God" is Brazil writ small, a brutally intimate glimpse of a society suffocating under an onslaught of cocaine and cordite.

Adopting Lin's 548-page novel was a daunting task. But Meirelles, who shot "City" entirely on location in Rio's favelas, simply lets the camera roll, often in long, jittery, unadorned takes. Except for Cenoura (Carrot), a lesser drug dealer (played sublimely by acclaimed star Matheus Nachtergaele), the leading roles all went to amateur actors from the favelas. None read the script; the dialogue was improvised scene by scene. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.