Perennial World Cup favorite Brazil seems to be known around the world mostly for three things: Soccer, Carnival, and Favelas. City of God focuses relentlessly on that last one, and it's a trying, heartbreaking film. In order to understand the joy and exuberance of Carnival, or to appreciate the creative and carefree style of Brazilian soccer, it helps to see what life is like in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where roaming gangs of thugs rule over everything.
City of God is a tough movie, but it's also beautiful and ever so slightly hopeful. It presents a world where falling in with the gang seems not much more dangerous than avoiding it, but where people still make choices. Watching kids sieze power through violence is always disturbing, but in City of God it's so easy to see how the cycle is hard to break. These kids are taking lives before they are even old enough to understand what it means to die or to kill. They only know that having a gun and a gang means getting what you want, and in a place where getting anything is a struggle, that seems like a pretty rational choice.
This might not be a rousing pre-match party movie, but it's an astonishing look at a culture that we don't often see on the big screen. I loved it, but I didn't have an immediate desire to watch it again. The film was followed by a television show and a second feature called City of Men and now that I've had time for the original film to settle in my brain, it might be time to watch the sequel.