City of God is another benchmark film in terms of my development as a member of the movie-going public. I’d always been into movies, courtesy of my mother (an addict who still goes to the movies weekly at the age of 69) and father (a painter and architect who once eschewed film as an inferior art form), but up to high school, my tastes had run fairly commercial and mainstream, excepting the time my mother brought me to see The Big Lebowski at age 14.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I met Jacob Sloman, who has remained a lifetime friend and collaborator. It pains me to give him the satisfaction, but Jacob was the one who opened my eyes to the rich and untapped world of global cinema, particularly the beautiful films of Brazil. It’s because of him that I even heard of films like Carandiru, Bus 174, and I’m Not Scared. But the one that always sticks out in my memory is City of God.
Vibrant, sensuous photography, a riveting story that spans years and intertwines the lives of several different characters, crackling with energy and originality, City of God was a film that showed me, even earlier than the aforementioned The Assassination of Jesse James, that movies were so much more than Hollywood. It’s a story about poverty, violence, and inequality that avoids becoming too message-laden or despondent, instead painting a richly realized landscape of Rio slums that are populated with characters who make us laugh and cheer as much as they make us cry.
Despite its bombastic presentation, City of God is all about balance. It’s a perfectly-oiled machine that pushes and pulls its audience through a variety of different moods and tones, which perfectly reflects the complex and complicated realities of subject matter that is too-often boiled down to the sum of its parts.