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Best Film 2003

I was intending to have a busy movie weekend, but after City of God I really didn’t want to see anything else. I actually went down to the Copley Place to see Intacto, but it was sold out twenty minutes before showtime, so I punted to City of God. The Copley is a lousy excuse for an art house theater, but it was the only place in town showing Intacto; thus, I wound up in a cramped little bandbox with a floor that sloped up to the tiny little screen. Pathetic.

About ten minutes into City of God, I’d pretty much forgotten that I’d get a better cinema experience from a bargain basement second run theater in Iowa.

I suspect part of my enthused reaction was just meeting a new set of cinematic conventions; I’ve never seen a Brazilian movie before, so there was a lot of novelty in it for me. On the other hand, the energy of the direction and acting was universal. The directors, Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles, are fearlessly willing to use bullet time and stop motion — but only for real emotional effects. You get the sense that they’ve never thought about the distinction between pulp and real art; for them, everything’s just another technique to use when telling the story.

The same egalitarian approach applies to the casting. Most of the actors are residents of the slums the movie chronicles, cast after extensive acting workshops. It pays off. Philippe Haagensen in particular has real star charisma.

I’d heard the story was very dense, and it was fairly compact, but it wasn’t the sort of fast cut patchwork you see in the average Tarantino homage. There were a lot of stories to tell, but they don’t intercut; they weave together, and elements of one turn up again later. This allows the nuances time to grow, and gives the audience time to absorb.

Highly recommended.

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