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Youth gangs took over the slums of Rio de Janiero during the 1960s and didn't relinquish their stronghold until the mid-1980s. Only a sucker wouldn't have turned to crime and this is exactly how naive teen Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) views himself. His attempts in illegal activity fail as he finds potential victims too friendly. Equally unsuccessful in love, he regularly fails to lose his virginity. Blood spills throughout the streets of the Ciudad de Deus as gang leader Li'l Ze (Douglas Silva) is challenged by local druglords and a gang of pre-teens known as the Runts. Rocket shoots all of this action with his weapon of choice, a camera.
Director Fernando Meirelles combines visual flashiness with dark history in telling the story of three decades of unrest in underground Rio de Janiero. Technically flawless, the Brazilian film uses a rapid-cutting style to flash back and forth in time. Cinematographer Cesar Charlone shoots with an overexposed glow in a film that may seem numb to violence, but reveres photography. Director Meirelles was assisted by Kaita Lund, a filmmaker who had previously shot in the Rio ghettos.