Alice Braga on the Staying Power of ‘City of God,’ 20 Years After the Brazilian Crime Classic Was Shot

Alice Braga on the Staying Power of ‘City of God,’ 20 Years After the Brazilian Crime Classic Was Shot

City of God was Alice Braga‘s first film. Could a first acting job get much better than that? Co-directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, City of God remains a special movie, a raw, bruising portrait of life in the crime-ridden Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Nobody forgets seeing it for the first time.

And 20 years after it was shot, Braga still sees it as a magical experience that continues to inspire both her and film fans.

City of God is a stylish drama that couldn’t feel more real, complete with a cast that has no previous acting experience. The characters, the streets, and the conflicts — everything is pure. The adaptation of Paulo Lins‘ novel depicts life in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio De Janerio, spanning years as it shows two childhood friends go down different paths. It’s so much more than that, though. Every character, everyone in the background, has their own story.

Two decades after production, Braga is delighted to reflect on the film. “We shot City of God in July 2001,” she said. “So, as we speak, it’s been 20 years that we shot that. I think it’s a film that broke a barrier. The film didn’t age, and the film is still a reference. I think that’s so beautiful and so powerful. For me, it was life-changing, even if it’s a small character and all that. It was my first film, it was my first contact to acting in a feature film.”

It’s a life-changing movie for its audience, too. Only a day before speaking to Braga, a producer told me it was one of the movies that made her want to make movies. Now, she does. Years ago, when the movie came out, I remember people I knew in Baltimore, Maryland, connecting with that movie on such a personal level.

The movie is specific to its location, but it travels. It connects with people to their core and, to Braga, that’s beautiful. She wants the film to continue to inspire, too:

“It was always special because of that, because it was my first connection into acting in a feature film. And in a film like that, that opened so many doors, not for me only as an actress, but also for Brazilian cinema, and for a bunch of young people that were watching movies all over the world to get inspired by. To tell their own stories, and to tell their own stories with different perspectives that haven’t been done before. So, if you are someone from Baltimore, Maryland, and all that, go and get your camera, and do your film, and shoot with your perspective because there’s no right or wrong perspective. And I think City of God brought that. For me as an actress, it brought me a lot.”

When most of us look back on our jobs in our teen years, we can’t claim to have starred in a masterpiece. Braga, on the other hand, can. “It was amazing!” she said. “I was 18. I was in the last year of high school. Can you imagine? It was magical.”

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