What To Watch While Drinking “Cidade de Deus”


There’s a fairly new Brazilian film around called “Tropa de Elite” (“Elite Squad”). As I was reading the reviews the other day, I got to thinking about “Cidade de Deus”, “City of God”, that amazing film by Fernando Meirelles, and thought to myself, “Now that’s a film that goes with a drink, if ever there was one.”


(By the way, you native English-speakers, how on earth can you justify that absurd expression, “to think to oneself”? As if I could think to anyone else! OK, OK, if you’re the Somontano Monkey you can, but otherwise it’s a non-starter. 


Anyway. Cidade de Deus is about rival cocaine-dealing gangs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. I think it’s what professional film reviewers call “fast paced” and “uncompromising”. That means it’s full of violence. It’s not the kind of gruesome torture as described by Sheen and Naoko in “Audition”, and bears no relation to the happy frenzy of Tarantino. It’s the kind of realistic violence which sickens precisely because of the characters’ attitude to their own acts. Life is cheap in the slums of Rio; it’s no big deal to put a bullet in someone’s head; “being a man” is gauged by taking drugs and murdering people.


So what makes this film so enjoyable? Shouldn’t it therefore be depressing and wretched? Let’s face it, we all like excitement, and to join in vicariously in these brutally realistic gun battles gives the viewer the chance to savour the kind of  thrill we are unlikely to get anywhere else. (Much more, I’d say, than war films, where professional soldiers are shown doing each other in but which mostly leave me cold as I can barely relate to military life; a good film director like Meirelles, however, manages to make his drug-addled teenage gunmen uncannily familiar, even though I’ve never been anywhere near Rio de Janeiro.)


But that’s not the main reason I liked this film. I thought the time structure was smart, the flashbacks were adroit and relevant, and the character-focussed episodes were assembled smoothly and carefully. I had no sympathy for any of the characters, but I could relate to all of them.


If there’s any film that would put anybody off taking drugs, it would be Cidade de Deus. Just to see how the coke is bought and sold in this film and what effects its trafficking has on a community is far more dissuasive than seeing the physiological effects it has on those who consume it. I don’t want to moralise; if you want to snort, go ahead, it’s your choice, but you can’t stop thinking about where it comes from and how much blood has been shed along the way before it reaches your nostrils.


The favelas of Rio must be horribly sweaty places. My automatic choice of beverage if I ever paid a visit would be beer, but my experience of drinking beer in hot humid places is not good. It makes you sweat even more, so you drink even more, and get a belly ache as a result. Maybe I drink the wrong beer. The only Brazilian beer I’ve ever tried is Brahma and it was neither fu nor fa.


Brazil also produces drinks based on guaraná and açai. Vile, the lot of them. (And don’t get me started on cachaça and caipirinhas and all that encephalitic dross.) I think the time has come for me to reveal one of my favourite non-boozy tipples, which I think is what you would need if you were surrounded by Kalashnikov-toting juvenile druggies, to keep a clear head just in case you need to make a run for it. It’s called San Miguel Cero Cero Sabor Té Con Limón – a tea/lemon flavoured alcohol-free beer, which I was amazed to find I really liked. The whole idea of ripping the alcohol out of beer is anathema to me; it’s like cheese-free pizza or rice-free sushi. But you replace the alcohol with tea and lemon and, incredibly, it works. You don’t get beer, needless to say, but you end up with a sophisticated refreshing soft drink without those corny, childish, fruity flavours or that cloying cola perfume. I don’t know if  San Miguel Cero Cero Sabor Té Con Limón is available outside Spain. I doubt it, as it is hardly commonplace even here, and I have to stockpile when I do unearth it. I ought to point out that I know very people who like it apart from me. Sheen’s friend Soraya pretends she does, but that’s just to win points with me.


San Miguel hadn’t invented this beverage when I first saw Cidade de Deus (2002). I was parched, nauseous and had the horrible feeling that some 12-year-old carioca had been emptying his Uzzi into my corporal remains as I grovelled around the bullet-ridden, corpse-strewn favela, catching a last glimpse of the Cristo Redentor, his arms spread wide like a bouncer forbidding my entry into Paradise, because I was sweaty and stank of Brahma.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi, bloghopping here 🙂 I love this movie too. Have you watched City of Men? Are these two related?


  2. Posted by zaragozatwins on August 16, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Hi Bert. I can’t see much of a connection between City of Men and Cidade de Deus. More similar is the Italian film Città Funghi (Paolo Emorroidi, 2004) in which the city of Palermo is taken over by mafiosi mushrooms. A blast!
    – Heen


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