Over one million Rio de Janeiro residents live in ghettos devastated by drug trafficking and class warfare. In City of God, director Fernando Meirelles recounts the true story of two children who grew up in the favelas (slums) of the ‘60s and how one turned to violence and another turned to photography during the disco ‘70s. According to the young Rocket, “We were far from the picture-perfect postcard image of Rio de Janeiro.” This ultra-realist MTV-style spectacle has the style and urgency of Amores Perros but none of its moral ambiguities—every other line of Rocket’s more or less throwaway voiceover makes gratuitous reference to the holiness and irony of the film’s title and everyone’s not-so-divine function as god, devil or angel of vengeance. Only when Meirelles chooses to focus on the rival Li’l Zé and Knockout Ned’s ironic relationship to local police and media does the film transcend the non-stop bullet parade. Still, Meirelles’s competency as a storyteller is remarkable, as is the jittery lyricism with which he connects the film’s many narratives and characters. Tarantino’s influence is all over City of God though the effortless grace with which the entire film is assembled more accurately brings to mind Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Even if the film packs the overall resonance of Casino, it’s still never lacking in excitement. The calculated vigor and brutalism should appeal to anyone who hates reading subtitles, and as such Miramax may have a crossover hit on its hands.
Because of City of God's delirious, almost out-of-control color palette, it shouldn't come as a surprise that this transfer isn't a perfect one. Edge enhancement is visible throughout but not exactly intrusive, and though shadow delineation and contrast can be a problem (take at look at the cloudy horizons over the film's favelas), blacks are solid. Otherwise, this is a really solid transfer, and whatever white specks can be spotted throughout the film, they only add to the retro allure of the film. From the hardcore soundtrack and clucking chickens to the perpetually firing guns and shouting, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is as good as it gets for a title like this.
In light of the film's four Academy Award nominations, you'd think Buena Vista Home Entertainment would have gone all out on this DVD edition of City of God. Fans of the film will have to settle for the gorgeously shot "News From A Personal War," a riveting, hour-long documentary about life in Brazil's favelas, interspersed with interviews with the film's crews. Fans of Bus 174 may find the piece a little redundant, but its an informative one nonetheless. Also included here are trailers for City of God, Dirty Pretty Things, and The Magdalene Sisters.
No commentary track, but a solid video and audio transfer should be enough to please fans of Fernando Meirelles's Brazilian gangster epic.