Rio de Janeiro. Ahhh, what a place! Mention that place and I’d picture Jesus’s outstretched arms as he safeguards the town then I’d ponder why hip hop icons like Ja Rule and Snoop Dog are into making videos with the Brazilian backdrop lately. After watching this film, all I could picture is Jesus’s accusatory glare as he murmurs, “You haven’t done enough reading about history.” Tissue, please.

         City of God presents, just like a child in the film commented, the part of Rio de Janeiro that no postcard has ever levitated. It is a tale involving numerous characters whose lives and deaths are intertwined by their own lust for power in the ghetto. There is no lead character, just a narrator in the form of Rocket, the boy who survived it all and attained his dream of becoming a photographer.

         The film started with a group of children running after a sole chicken as each step, each chuckle is accompanied by a very festive music on the background. Everything is normal until the gun looms in your sight. Yes, these children barely 10 – are firing in order to catch the chicken. And this is normal in City of God.

         Rocket is younger brother to Goose, 1/3 of the amateur hold uppers. He has no balls to contradict Goose, Clipper and Shaggy and their frequent hold upping and neither he has the heart to follow their example. The trio has extreme seniority complex, making bad ass wannabe Li’l Dice impatient for his own turn to pluck lives. As established, the three youngsters were just amateur and not all roads for them led to heaven. Or bank, at least. How their separate lives teased the viewers that it’s going to be a happy ending deserves an applaud. It was just an introduction why Li’l Dice, soon christened as Li’l Ze, was too trigger happy and charm less compared to his partner in crime and business, Benny. (If you think they’re involved in prostitution, think again. This is a Brazilian film.) Unlike Li’l Ze, Benny is allowed to fornicate thus his relationship with Angela, the sole woman Rocket is lusting for (in case you’re wondering where is Rocket in the story), who prompted Benny to leave City of God and its hellish violence behind. Hear the alarm? Yes, their departure would mean – and meant – the inevitable clash between the two drug and gun lords: Li’l Ze and Carrot. Now that the only pacifier between the two’s insurmountable need for authority was unwittingly gunned down, so went the Cocaine War. All of a sudden, early bloomer Li’l Ze discovered he has hormones and decided to bang a hot mama in front of her hot, furious boyfriend, Knockout Ned. Carrot came to the picture, devilishly encouraging the good-natured Knockout Ned to avenge his girl and his family. City of God was consequently divided into two leaders of terror: Li’l Ze and Knockout Ned. And so the entire ghetto – regardless of age and excuses – joined the killing spree. Whilst these are all happening, Rocket got a chance to capture moments of violence between two camps. No one emerged as the winner. The son of a man he killed murdered knockout Ned. Li’l Ze exhibited ten-second seniority complex before he lay to his own pool of blood. But the younger generation is unwilling to close the chapter.

         I recall a professor’s lecture on how to attain political power. At the bottom of the pyramid is economic power which both Benny and Li’l Ze possess. Cultural power followed suit. Benny is loved by everyone, from substance abusers to the churchgoers while goons whose idea of survival is being an asswipe to the powerful surround Li’l Ze. Respect is earned, both may have earned everybody’s respect but respect is never synonymous to fear. Benny then is the real leader in the pack. Plus, he knows how to dance.

         Favorite scene: young Steak was invited by Li’l Ze and company to go out for a walk and encountered (deliberate or not unknown to me) the underrated terrorists still in their 6th or 7th year of existence. Li’l Ze overheard them weave dreams of exclusive power, the next thing I knew he’s pointing a gun to two poor saps whose locomotors skills haven’t reached its peak. They were given the privilege of choice where to put the bullet: their hand or their feet. I was cringing in my seat, whispering “Hand. Take his left hand,” But nefarious Li’l Ze is bereft of an ear and put a hole in their feet. He then turned to Steak, handed him the gun and gave him the freedom to kill only one. Steak is very shaken up and quite undecided, making my colleague and me place our bets with pity. I won. But I feel bad just the same.

         This is one of those films that make you feel good about yourself (apart from the film’s creative way of differentiating whites from blacks: hyperactivity of their excretory system). Just like after watching Live Show and Tuhog, I felt good that I was never situated near the fountain of bullets or sexhibitions. Hope succeeding starlets who’d be included in these movies would at least be garbed in Guest?, Prego or Victor’s Secret.