Cidade de Deus, or City of God, is a 2002 film directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund about life in the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The movie is based on real events and follows the storyline of different characters throughout the narrative from the viewpoint of Rocket, a Brazilian youth that dreams of becoming a reporter. The narrator strings one character to the next through some event that impacts and is relevant to the following storyline, such as how the “Tender Trio” allow Li’l Dice to tag along on a robbery, which leads Li’l Dice to become a major competing crime lord in Rio, and this furthers the exposition of more characters like Benny, Knockout Ned, and Carrot.
City of God is focused mainly on the rise of crime in Rio due to the rapid urbanization from an influx of agricultural workers flooding in during the Great Depression that were looking for industrial work. But the city of Rio faced a steadily declining economy from 1930 to 1960 with at least 40 percent of people in the city being “economically inactive” and a total industrial employment growth of 2 percent from 1940 to 1960. Most that did have a job were those that only had temporary jobs, such as construction, for less than a year and were paid below the minimum wage level, which kept most people below the poverty level. Those below this level became squatters in the shanty towns, and by 1960, one out of every ten people lived in the favelas (Pino, 19-22).
The rise of organized crime in City of God is a response to this lack of work and the poverty it caused. In the movie, Li’l Dice, who later is renamed Li’l Ze in a ritualistic baptism by a shaman (Hart, 207), strives to overcome his place in life and become the leader of his neighborhood. Once accomplished, Li’l Ze ironically turns the area into a peaceful “City of God” of sorts. Under his rule, though drugs and addiction flourish, there is a sort of peace imposed upon the citizens. Li’l Ze and his gang rule the area with cruelty such as when they force one child to shoot another, but only because he broke Li’l Ze’s law of not holding up businesses under his protection.
The best aspect of the film is the way it shows the cyclical nature of crime within the slums of Rio. At the start of the film, the “Tender Trio” are the local ruling gang that commit petty crimes mostly for fun, which demonstrates how the lack of available employment can lead people to violence because of no other alternative. Li’l Dice is taken under their wing during a crime and afterwards kills one of the members to signify his new dominance of the zone. During the previously mentioned ritual in which he is renamed, Li’l Ze kills several rival criminals to solidify his rule, only to let his ego become his downfall. He rapes Knockout Ned’s girlfriend, causing a crime war between the Ze and Ned who joins up with Carrot (Hart, 207). The two sides turn the shanty town into a war zone before wiping each other out, only for the film to end with a showing of the new group of kids, the Runts, who the audience assumes will start the crime cycle anew by taking over the area with violence and drugs.