Director Fernando Mierelles’ dramatization of life from the late 1960s to 1980 in Cidade de Deus, a poverty-stricken and lawless housing project far from downtown Rio de Janeiro, is both difficult to watch and mesmerizing. It is a provocative excursion through purgatory and hell on earth based on the 600-page book by former Cidade inhabitant Paulo Lins. Its episodic structure evolves into a sort of slum version of Lord of the Flies
in which kids with guns, drug gangs and the police plague and massacre each other and innocents alike with matter-of-fact, law-of-the-jungle boldness. The film’s style and tempo are a smorgasbord of breathless camera movement and kinetic editing that punctuate the daily challenges and chaos of a city under siege. The narrator Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), a young man who does not want to become just another amateur hood like his older brother, aspires instead to become a photographer, a career move that ironically jeopardizes his life.