Welcome to the latest installment of a weekly movie blog series about the best movies you (probably) haven’t seen. Last week, I featured the first black-and-white film of the series, 12 Angry Men, and the week before, I featured the modern version of Great Expectations, which is one of my favorite movies of all-time.

(The idea is that each week I’ll throw out a movie that I think is really great, but isn’t a huge mainstream hit, or it’s not fresh and likely hasn’t been seen in quite a while—if at all. If you have seen it, share what you think about it—and feel free to rip me if you think it’s not worth watching! Then, in the comments, y’all make one movie suggestion as well. It’s that simple, and it’ll be a lot of fun if you’re a cinephile like me.)

This week, my nomination for the best movie you (probably) haven’t seen takes us to the slums of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The first foreign film nominated for this series, City of God (foreign title is Cidade de Deus)is a gripping foreign film revealing the delicate politics and brutal tragedy of common life for kids growing up in one of Rio’s most crime-ridden favelas. The film’s Portugese trailer is located at the end of the blog post. It is a much truer representation of the style, creativity, and characters in the film. Amazon’s summary:

Like cinematic dynamite, City of God lights a fuse under its squalid Brazilian ghetto, and we’re a captive audience to its violent explosion. The titular favela is home to a seething army of impoverished children who grow, over the film’s ambitious 20-year timeframe, into cutthroat killers, drug lords, and feral survivors. In the vortex of this maelstrom is L’il Z (Leandro Firmino da Hora–like most of the cast, a nonprofessional actor), self-appointed king of the dealers, determined to eliminate all competition at the expense of his corrupted soul. With enough visual vitality and provocative substance to spark heated debate (and box-office gold) in Brazil, codirectors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund tackle their subject head on, creating a portrait of youthful anarchy so appalling–and so authentically immediate–that City of God prompted reforms in socioeconomic policy. It’s a bracing feat of stylistic audacity, borrowing from a dozen other films to form its own unique identity. You’ll flinch, but you can’t look away. –Jeff Shannon

The film follows the life of it’s protagonist, Rocket, for twenty years from the 60s to the 80s. Rocket wants to be a photographer, and ultimately finds himself documenting a defining moment in the City of God favela through his lens.

City of God is a very gritty and realistic portrait of the lives with which children in the favela are faced. The few that escape this life seem to be those needlessly murdered over drugs, sex, or theft. The film juxtaposes the innocent Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) who has real ambitions to leave and be successful with those of soulless Li’l Zé (Li’l Dice as a kid) who has jaded ambitions to stay and be in charge. To me, the story is phenomenally told with a quick pace that matches the characters and life in the favela. The style and technical production are unique and very characteristic to the story, making the piece jump right off the screen. Whether you love it or not, you will appreciate the brutally honest reality the film portrays. If I take one thing with me from this film, it is absolutely how real this conflict is—both on screen and off. The movie reflects the real drug war in excruciating detail, such as recreating a real drug war photograph with the placement of dead bodies. It reminds me of how Spielberg created Saving Private Ryan‘s Omaha Beach scene with such accuracy.

Some City of God fun facts:

  • Only one of the primary and secondary characters were played by a professional actor (Matheus Nachtergaele, who played the supporting role of Carrot). Director Fernando Meirelles selected all of the amateur actors from favelas, including some from the real Cidade de Deus (like protagonist Rocket), and had them go through a months-long workshop focused on improvisation and street conflict for a more authentic feel in the film. After filming concluded, they couldn’t return to their old favelas due to the content of the film, so the crew setup help groups for the cast to create a successful future.
  • The scene where the gang prays before the war was off-book. Meirelles was approached by a young kid during production asking if they were going to pray before starting. The kid was actually in a gang and told the Director that they always prayed before a big conflict.
  • At the end, you see “The Runts” walking away down an alley talking about making a hit list. In real life, this kid-gang grew to be Rio’s most-feared gang, the CV (Comando Vermelho) or Red Command—rumored to have such a hit list.

Based on Netflix’s star-rating system (1* = Hated it, 2* = Didn’t like it, 3* = Liked it, 4* = Really Liked it, 5* = Loved it), I give this film 5/5 stars. 

I’d love to make this series even better, so if you have any ideas, share them! Don’t forget to submit your nominations in the comments below.

Links:

Portugese Trailer for Cidade de Deus