City of God (Blu-ray)
When you think of Rio de Janeiro, chances are you think of paradise. The world of Brazil tied up in a bow for tourists and the wealthy upper-class. In fact, last year saw the release of the family film RIO which furthers this view of this majestic city… but like many major cities, Rio is also a place of corruption and violence. Mere feet from the picturesque are images that border on the obscene. For every beautiful locale, there is a favela (slum), and in these slums are people both good and bad, all of whom are simply trying to get by and take care of their own.
CITY OF GOD is ‘based on a true story,’ and is the account of one young man as he grows into adulthood within one of the most violent of the slums. Our hero is Rocket, a young man who longs to “take pictures” and get out of the favela. As he tells his story, he meanders through the lives of many of the city’s denizens, stopping to make a few points on his way. Each glimpse offers a singular view, a snapshot in time. Though Rocket doesn’t wish to become a ‘hood (hoodlum) like his older brother Goose, he is often in the right place at the wrong time.
Rocket’s story is juxtaposed with the story of Li’l Ze, a ‘hood who dreams of being the boss of the city. As much as Rocket tries to avoid violence, Li’l Ze thrives on it. Though he is Rocket’s age, his involvement with the local gang of ‘hoods (including Goose) turns sinister when they refuse to include him in his own plan to rob a local hotel. Li’l Ze (known at this point as Li’l Dice) wants to become the boss of the town, and he has plans. Sadly no one realizes just how far he has descended until he makes a play for all the drug business in town, wiping out all of the rival gangs in one sweep.
As we watch Li’l Ze and Rocket plummet forward through the violence, we are left with the feeling that we are viewing an intimate portrait of a war that no one wants to acknowledge. Even Rocket believes that he is simply an observer. He believes there is nothing he can do to change his home, until he is given a chance to tell the inside story of his favela. When Rocket ultimately gets the chance to take photos and expose life in the slums, his first job is to get close to Li’l Ze. A potentially fatal first assignment, he is to take pictures from within the slums. Due to the war-like nature of the area, reporters and photographers are not allowed (even police tend to stay away).
This point in the movie is one of the most climactic I’ve seen in any film, and easily as well done. The storytelling never stops pressing onward as we watch the cycle of crime and criminals go ’round and ’round. The frenzied editing and ‘behind-the-lines’ warzone-style footage fits this story perfectly. Despite the subject matter, CITY OF GOD does not pass judgment about any of the people presented. Instead, the movie takes on the photographer’s role – to document an event and allow the viewer to form their own opinions.
This movie is a treasure on any medium, on Blu-ray the presentation is near perfect (aside from the notable lack of special features). CITY OF GOD is never easy to watch due to the graphic depictions of violence, but it is all the more beautiful and engrossing because of it.
Video: (1080p, 1.78:1 Widescreen) The video is beautiful and disturbing with blue and golden filters dominating the presentation. It works really well; the result being that you feel like you’re in the middle of the action and right next to everything as it has happening, even as the film moves across the decades.
Audio: (Brazilian Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio is mixed in such a way as to string together the narrative, raw and unrelenting. The sound is just as good as the picture.
News from a Personal War (56:42) This documentary is absolutely riveting. It is shot in standard definition and that is how it is presented, but like the movie is an intensely dramatic and, at times, terrifying view of life within one of Rio’s more violent favelas. By talking to police officers, drug dealers, and families living within the slum, the filmmakers provide an unflinching narrative account of the reason so many people end up working for the drug dealers.