Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movie Review: Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002)

SHORT REVIEW: Depressing, haunting, extremely hard to watch – loved it.

The box cover for this DVD boldly displays Roger Ebert’s announcement "One of the best films you’ll ever see!" Normally, I find Ebert’s taste in film to be lacking. He’s a bright enough guy but his political and social agenda are too obtuse for my political and social agenda to withstand. While his exclamation is a tad overdone, this is a very potent film on many levels. The acting alone is worth the price of admission. The actors are so strong, I often felt as if I were watching a documentary, not a film.

However, I do strongly advise you to see this movie. It is a harsh film about the trails of a young man named Rocket growing up in the toilet that is City of God (found about fifteen miles outside of Rio de Janeiro.) City of God is ironically named since if there were hell on Earth, it would be a place like this. We are shown this brutal world and its hellish soap opera in all of its lurid details. This film goes on for over two hours and I couldn’t keep my eyes from it. The richness of the story and the honesty in which the events are presented is brilliant. The structure of the film is masked by clever narrative tricks such as briefly introducing a character, only to tell us he will be more important later. This sets a character up when it is most convenient to the story. We then wait for the character’s reintroduction so we can find out about who they are. The narrator does this a few times and it works wonderfully. It gives exposition without being intrusive in addition to infusing the narration with a human flavor (he seems to get ahead of himself while telling the story and has to backtrack.)

The content of this film is hard to watch. I strongly warn you about this. Children are shot and killed. Women are raped. Men are gunned down. This is not for the faint of heart. It is a film for those who need a dose of realism. If nothing else, this film will make you feel gratitude for your station in life, if you do not live in a situation even close to the one presented in this film.

Cautions: As I mentioned, there's rape, beatings, shootings - a variety of violent acts. This is liberally mixed with sexual content and harsh language. This is a film for adults - discerning adults. None of the rough content is gratuitous however. This is an important distinction to make. It is a natural development of the plot and the environment. Violence is a part of the story because violence is a part of the lives of the characters - you can't have one without the other.

Worldview: The film doesn't take a strong theological stand but it did raise some issues, at least for me, when I viewed it.

Most Christian thinking (at least in the West) I describe as "suburban Christianity". This means ideas and concerns are developed from the point of view of a bunch of puffy suburbanites sitting comfortably and safely in their homes. Only the most affluent Christians would sit around and seriously discuss whether it is healthy to watch PG-13 Rated movies or not - we are so blessed to have such stupid concerns. While I have nothing against the Western middle class, it seems to me that much of our theology has been weakened by our casual lifestyles. Films such as this can wake us up from their comfy naps and remind us that the power of the Word is there for people in far dire circumstances, who seem to have nothing to save them. Hope - God - still lives in the darkest of places, no matter how deep the well we fall, his grace is still there.

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