Almost a decade on, City of God remains an uncomfortable and unflinching descent into the hellish underbelly of Rio de Janeiro, a world that is as far from the picture postcard image the rest of the world sees as can be. Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 picture charts the parallel lives of several children from one of Brazil's many favelas – shanty towns on the edge of cities where people eek out a meager existence in abject poverty.

The story is told from the point of view of Rocket, a young boy with no taste for hoodlum life and ambition to one day become a photographer. Rocket narrates the parallel rise of Bene and Lil Ze, from their days as petty thieves in the favela through their bloody ascension to drug kingpins of the City of God, a lower class quarter in the west of Rio.

Electing to use almost no professional actors, instead choosing kids from the real favelas and placing them into theater workshops, Meirelles evokes a gritty sense of authenticity that rings out like a bell. While it plays like a Brazilian gangster saga, it is no mere dramatization. This is a story told firsthand by people who have lived it.

Meirelles manages to recreate a world where violence is an intricate way of life, where the wrong person might shoot you so much as look at you. The violence is so matter-of-fact that after a while you cease to notice. That is when the true power of the film hits you. In the City of God there is no space and no freedom. The oppressive violence is suffocating and inescapable. High concrete structures, housing apartments built on apartments separated by narrow cobbled alleyways serve to trap and contain the undesirable element within like some throwback to Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Violence is not just a tool for these desperate and impoverished people. It is often their one and only means of survival and the sheer casual brutality on display is memorizing and at the same time slightly alluring. Ultimately it says as much about the culture of western voyeurism that surrounds the favelas as it does about the unfortunates who inhabit them.

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