So many boys. And all so young, so heartbreakingly young. In the slums of Rio de Janeiro, better known as Cicade de Deus, they all die. Except for one boy. A budding photographer, Buscape is a serious minded boy, who knows what he wants: to get out of the City of God.
As his brother and playmates fall prey to the gun running, drug smuggling clutches of the favela, Buscape manages to keep his nose clean and his head above it all, by doing what he loves: taking photographs. The only one who manages not to get caught in the crossfire, as two gangs ravage the poverty ridden streets, he keeps neutral relations with both gangs.
The movie opens into a shot of a party, with snatches of ukulele and charred kebabs. As the chickens are slaughtered one by one, one manages to escape. It rushes furiously down the streets, with the gang members chasing after it with guns and knives, dodges a truck and lands up at the feet of a boy with a camera. As he bends to pick it up, a police car skids to a stop at the other end of the alley. As most of the onlookers flee, we see Buscape in a very unenviable position: caught between a gang on one side and the police on the other, all with their guns cocked. As the camera whirls around him, the scene transitions to a dusty courtyard, with small boys kicking a ball around.
The film is narrated by Buscape, as he stands on the inside, yet somehow looking on. He tells the story of the Tender Trio, of which is brother was a part. How one chose the church, one was shot down by the police as he was push starting a car with his girlfriend and his dream of becoming a hippie farm owner; and one was never seen again.
We see how Dadinho, the lookout boy, thought he needed to get in on the action, and how the motel with the robbed guests becomes the motel with the dead guests. And how he grows up with a dream: to become the boss of the slums. And we see how his best friend Benny, of the curly hair and ready smile, grows up to become the coolest hood in the city of god, and how he is shot dead with a bullet meant for Dadinho, now L’il Ze.
We witness the brutal gang wars, where little children who held guns and killed, cried for their mothers as their playmates were killed. And we see how Zé Pequeno (L’il Ze) is shot down by kids like himself, younger than himself, in a dark alley.
This is a passionately told story, with whirling lights and action, of Brazil’s castaways: the homeless and the destitute, who were boxed in a slum on the outskirts of the city by an indifferent government. This is the story of the boys who made it (to adulthood), and the ones who didn’t. And it is the story of the boy who told it to the world through his photographs.