In a Rio de Janeiro suburb riddled with violence and organised crime, two boys take off in different directions: one becomes a drug dealer, the other a professional photographer.

A frightening look at an almost completely lawless society.

City Of God, refers to a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, that was established in the 1960s and, by the '80s, had become a most dangerous place. The people who live in this featureless, dusty environment are impoverished and dispossessed, and it's no wonder that crime became the main business activity of the area. The film, based on a book by Paolo Lins, is narrated by Rocket, who is something of an outsider in the City of God – he doesn't want to be a bad guy. He tells a number of stories, mostly centering on the criminal career of Little Dice, a child who grows up to be the truly frightening and very sadistic killer, Little Ze.

This very violent film, directed by Fernando Meirelles, is most potent in its depiction of an almost completely lawless society where children adapt to guns and killing as easily as their counterparts in mainstream society play with toys. It's a very scary world, and a very brutal one, where human life isn't worth a great deal. The film succeeds, up to a point, in getting inside this environment, in almost making us understand how it works and how the advent of cocaine made it all so much more violent as the years went by; and the actors inhabit their roles with absolute conviction. But, sadly, towards the end of the film the undisciplined and exceptionally ugly hand-held camera work is likely to alienate some viewers.

Comments by Margaret Pomeranz: The energy in this film is truly dizzying at times with such fast cuts, jump cuts and kinetic hand-held camerawork that it's actually painful on the eyes. The opening sequence of the chicken chase is exhilarating and also somehow threatening, an omen of what's to come. In telling the story of this place, this world unto itself, and the young people who have to survive in it over two decades is a major achievement and for its first two thirds absolutely gripping cinema, but the last third becomes terribly repetitive, the horror stories are worked beyond their tolerance level. The endless round of violence, particularly in some of the scenes involving very young children – just about all of whom are played extraordinarily well by non- professional actors – becomes too much to bear. But it's an impressive debut by one of Brazil's most successful director of commericials. City of God is certainly in indication of the growing strength of South American cinema.