Cidade de Deus

Brazil, France


LATE 1960s
"Buscape" is just another 11 year-old boy in Cidade de Deus, a suburb of Rio. Timid and frail, he observes the tough neighborhood street kids, their pilfering, their brawls, their daily skirmishes with the police. He already knows what he wants to be if he survives: a photographer. "Dadinho" - a kid the same age - moves into the neighborhood. He dreams of being Rio de Janeiro's most dangerous criminal, and begins his apprenticeship running errands for the local outlaws. He admires "Cabeleira" and his gang, who hold up gas trucks and commit other minor armed robberies. "Cabeleira" gives "Dadinho" the opportunity to kill for the first time. The first of many murders.
THE 1970s
"Buscape" continues his studies, works occasionally, and walks the thin line between crime and the "straight" life. "Dadinho" is already a small time gang leader with big ambitions. Understanding that coke-dealing will prove an infinitely more profitable line than robbery, he sets about organizing his business, which flourishes.
EARLY 1980s
After a few attempts at armed robbery, "Buscape", finally gets hold of a camera and realizes his childhood dream. "Dadinho" has also made his dream come true: at 18, he is known as "Ze Pequeno", the most feared and respected drug dealer in Rio. His word is law in Cidade de Deus. Surrounded by a gang of childhood buddies and protected by an army of boys aged 9 to 14, he rules unchallenged... Until "Manu Galinha" shows up. A bus-fare collector who saw his girlfriend being raped, and decides to kill" Zw Pequeno" in revenge, whatever it takes. When the word spreads, a gang of armed kids with the same idea forms almost overnight. War erupts in Cidade de Deus.

Director's Statement

A friend of mine gave me the novel Cidade de Deus by Paulo Lins, with the idea to turning its 600 pages into a film. I didn't give it any thought at all. I knew that the book was about the beginnings of drug dealing in Rio de Janeiro, a violent story, without hope, which took place entirely in a favela. I never used cocaine, I wasn't interested in the subject, I knew very little about how the favelas or drug dealing were organised and I was never going to leave my family in Sao Paulo to shoot a film in Rio.
I decided to read the book anyway, intrigued by its great critical acclaim. By the time I got to page 100, I had to agree with my friend that the story was very interesting. From page 200, I began to underline a few words here, a few words there. By the end, I had the whole list of film locations and character roles noted down on the inside cover and felt completely involved in the project. I am aware today that I never decided to adapt the book, it was the book itself that took me hostage, demanding to be adapted to film.
Reading the book was a revelation - the revelation of another side of my country. I had already, of course, read books and articles on favelas and drug dealing and believed I knew something about the social apartheid which exists in Brazil, but the book somehow managed to go way beyond this, transforming the vision of this particular universe inside out. The author, Paulo Lins, was raised in the Cidade de Deus favela and practically wrote the book watching as the characters passed by his window. The litany of lives cut down in the midst of their youth, and the acceptance of this violent reality by those living it, was what most struck me and compelled me to film the project. A 16-year-old kid knows that his best years are behind him, that he'II be lucky to last another three or four. He knows he's going to die early and he faces this death, accepting it as inevitable. The wasting of lives is the theme of the film.

Director's Biography

Born in Säo Paulo in 1955, Fernando Meirelles began to produce experimental videos with a group of friends while studying architecture at the University of Säo Paulo. This led to the creation of an independent production company, `Olhar Electrönico'. Together with his colleagues he won major awards at Brazilian film festivals and his company gained recognition as being at the forefront of independent film production.
From experimental videos they began to produce TV programs which helped revitalize Brazilian television in the 80's. His productions during this period include Ernesto Varela, the Reporter, TV MIX and the Ra Tim Bum youth series.
At the end of the 80's, F.M. made the switch from video to celluloid, and directed numerous commercials. In the early years of the 90s, together with Paulo Morelli and Andrea Barata Ribeiro, he established the production company 02 Filmes.
Over the past decade, without abandoning his TV productions and while beginning his cinema career, Fernando Meirelles has become one of the best known commercials directors in Brazil. Since 1996, he has co-directed two short films and two feature films with his associates.


2000 PALACE II (short)
1998 E NO MEIO PASSA UM TREM (short)

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Fernando Meirelles

Written by: Bráulio Mantovani

Produced by: Andrea Barata Ribeiro , Mauricio Andrade Ramos

Cinematography: César Charlone

Editing: Daniel Rezende

Production Design: Tulé Peak

Costume Design: Bia Salgado, Inês Salgado

Make-Up & Hair: Anna Van Steen

Original Score: Ed Côrtes, Antonio Pinto

Sound Design: Martín Hernández

Cast: Matheus Nachtergaele (Sandro Cenoura), Seu Jorge (Mané Galinha), Alexandre Rodrigues (Buscapé), Leandro Firmino da Hora (Zé Pequeno), Phellipe Haagensen (Bené), Jonathan Haagensen (Cabeleira), Douglas Silva (Dadinho), Roberta Rodriguez Silvia (Berenice)

Nominations and Awards

  • Screen International Award (for a non-European film) 2002