Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Movie of the week:


There are neighborhoods in every city where the tour buses don’t go.

I recently came across the following two descriptions of Rio de Janeiro.

“Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful and spectacular cities on the planet. Even the well-traveled individuals will love what the city has to offer. One of the best ways to appreciate the setting is by going up Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), where you’ll get a fantastic 360 degree view of Rio ……. Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), elected one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World”. ………. the natural harbour is surrounded by lush, high mountains that meet the sea in the world-famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.”

Then, this one.

“Rio is one of the most violent cities in the world. As of 2007 the homicide rate of the greater metropolitan area stands at nearly 80 victims per week, with the majority of victims falling to homicide, assault, stray bullets or narcoterrorism. In 2001 the murder rate in Rio was 45 for every 100 thousand people and between 1978 and 2000, 49,900 people were killed in Rio. The numbers are comparable with war conflict zones like Baghdad and Kabul.

It’s tough to comprehend that they’re talking about the same place - but they are. Rio is like that. There are areas (such as downtown and along the waterfront) that are everything the travelogues promise ……..the playground for the rich and famous and the beautiful people. The rest of it is pretty much a hell-hole. A lot of big cities are like this, (e.g. South Chicago, East L.A., Mexico City, and we won’t even talk about Calcutta). The story from this week’s movie, CITY OF GOD, takes place in the not-so-nice part of Rio. “City of God” isn’t an attempt at sarcasm, it’s actually the nickname for that part of the city (like “The Big Apple” or “The Windy City”) – it was probably a nice place once.

Buscape and Lil’Ze grew up together in the same slum of Rio. They each find their own way to survive. Lil’Ze works his way up in the gangs (“works”, in this usage, is a politer way to say “brutalize”), it’s that or get killed. In Rio, you’re either a criminal or a victim. Buscape has only three goals in life, 1. don’t get killed, 2. become a photographer, and 3. become a photographer without getting killed. The story is told from his point of view. It is his real-life story and his photographs on which the movie is based. I suppose I just gave away that he realizes all three of his goals, but there’s no surprise there – you know this from the beginning.

There is a lot of violence in this film. The truly frightening thing is how extremely young children are exposed to and drawn into the violence on a daily basis. I know I’m probably making this sound like a perfectly dreadful film, but it’s not. It’s a terrific film. It’s not entirely without bright spots and without redemption and without hope. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s inspiring, it just runs the gamut. Since it’s a true story, it doesn’t have to follow Hollywood plot formulas – good guys can lose – bad guys can win – people needn’t necessarily be saved at the last possible moment – million-to-one shots probably won’t pay off – but they just might. So I will leave you with some last thoughts to convince you to see this film.

1. Ranks #18 in the IMDB top 250, between The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Usual Suspects. So it’s good, right?

2. Score 92% on the tomatometer.

3. Featured in Steven Jay Schneider’s book, “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”. You don’t get into heaven unless you’ve seen this film.

4. I talked to someone who recently visited Rio de Janeiro and asked her if it’s as bad as it’s portrayed in the film. She replied, “Worse”

5. It’s in Portuguese with subtitles in various languages – not really a reason to see the film, I understand, but at the same time, not a reason to not see it. Besides, the subtitles ARE in English and they’re a pretty yellow color and usually show up at just the time somebody is talking on the screen.

6. It’s a true story. I know that you can’t always go by that, because I once watched a movie called “Monstroid”, about a giant sea serpent that rises from the ocean to terrorize a small fishing village. In the opening credits, they actually claim that “….this story is based on actual events.” But in CITY OF GOD, it actually is true, not made-up Hollywood true. Not true-ish!

7. The movie was filmed on location in the City of God. This was extraordinarily dangerous mostly because of the shootings and robberies and such.

8. Many of the actors were locals from the neighborhood. They know the street language and local customs. Some of the locals were the real people or were related to the real people portrayed in the film. It all adds a degree of “realness” that shows through the film.

9. I’m not making up #6. They really did claim that it was based on actual events. But as far as this movie goes, you can real film critic, Roger Ebert’s review here.

10. As I said in the beginning, CITY OF GOD is a part of town where the tour buses don’t go ……but maybe they should. It would probably go something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen. My name is ……, and I’ll be your guide today for the Inner City Bus Tour. I’ll ask you to please fasten your seat belts, as we may need to take corners at full speed in case of emergency. I must also remind everyone to please keep your arms inside the bus. The bullet-proof glass will not protect any part of you that is not behind it. Please pardon the bumpy ride in this neighborhood, as there are many bodies in the street. Now if you look to your left, you’ll see the ElDiego Courthouse, and one of the oldest buildings in Brazil. Built in 1725, it is an excellent example of classic Iberian architecture brought by the Portuguese to the new world. The sculptures of Christ surrounded by angels were added early in the 1900’s, in the great modernization that made the city what it is today. Unfortunately, the building was fire-bombed last week which is why you’re now looking at a pile of rubble. Now if you would direct your attention to the front of the bus, we have a special treat for you. An actual crime lord has just boarded the bus. This is El Condo and two of his men. He has generously agreed to answer any questions you may have about the neighborhood. You must concede that this degree of authenticity cannot be found on any competing tour program. Now if you would kindly prepare your money and other valuables, the men will relieve you of them. Just another example of the personal service we provide here at Inner City Bus Tours. We do hope that you visit us again the next time you’re in town. And to those of you who do not survive the tour, we look forward to serving you in the next life. Have a nice day…

Visit the CITY OF GOD soon (on video, not for real)


view trailer


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