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Film / City of God

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Run and you'll never escape. Fight and you'll never survive.

A 2002 Brazilian crime film directed by Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund and written by Bráulio Mantovani.

On the edge of Rio de Janeiro, in The '60s, a housing colony is built to replace the favela shantytowns and house the many refugees of flooding. A bleak but not horrible place, its people live on the edge of society: the kids growing up there engage in petty crime that grows ever more severe as the years go on. By The '70s, the children have become teenagers and the colony has become like the decaying shantytowns it was meant to replace.

Buscapé (Rocket) grows up alongside teenage gang members but limits his law-breaking to petty theft and smoking weed. He wants to be a photographer when he grows up, and to move far away from the ever-worsening Cidade de Deus. The kids who grow up in the crime-ridden Cidade de Deus turn to gangs, and the gangs turn to drugs to make money. As the biggest gangster, Zé Pequeno, declares war against the other street gangs in the slum, Buscapé can't help but get involved as violence explodes on every street. In the end, he realizes that he must leave as Cidade de Deus collapses completely and has become an all-out war zone.


The film City Of God (Cidade de Deus) is based on a book by the same name by Paulo Lins (which in turn is based on some true events). After the film became popular and won awards, a TV series spin-off was made called City of Men. Not to be confused with the book "The City of God" by Augustine of Hippo.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Abusive Parents: Rocket's dad gives his brother Goose a few good smacks for getting involved in gang activity. May be Deliberate Values Dissonance since this part of the film is set in The '60s.
  • Adult Fear: Children who still have their baby teeth are becoming gang lords, and there's nothing to stop them.
  • Affably Evil: Bené. So much so that calling him "evil" would be an exaggeration.
    • Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) qualifies too. Despite slowly succumbing to He Who Fights Monsters, he maintains a level of compassion that is all but absent from the rest of the gangsters.
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  • Age Cut: Of the "cut to younger" kind.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Subverted. Angélica does go for gangster Bené over nice guy Buscapé, but not because she wants a bad boy — as gangsters in the film go, Bené's a relatively benign one, and Angélica asks him to give up the gangster lifestyle soon after they've gotten together. The same is true of Cabeleira's (Shaggy) girlfriend in the opening section. Lil' Zé, meanwhile, is unable to get sex without paying for it or forcing himself on a woman, despite being as bad as bad boys get (and getting plenty of respect for it from other gangsters).
  • Amicable Exes: Rocket is initially broken up over Angélica choosing Bené over him. Later, however, he is able to move past it and remains on good terms with the couple right up to Benny's death.
  • Anti-Villain: Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned), arguably to the point of scarcely being a villain at all.
  • The Artful Dodger: The Runts.
  • Ax-Crazy: Lil' Zé. Even as a child, he was already quite unstable, going on a killing spree in a motel, and leaving no survivors. As an adult, he has only become worse, having violent temper outbursts and laughing madly while committing his atrocities. The only one who could keep him in check was his best friend Bené. After Bené is killed, he gets even worse.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Most of the police are on the take, and those who aren't don't care enough to enforce the law in Cidade de Deus.
  • Badass Mustache: Dadinho (Lil' Dice) is an ambitious, heartless kid. As soon as he's old enough, he becomes a psychotic crimelord, changing his name to Zé Pequeno (Lil' Zé). He also grows a mustache for the occasion, marking his coming of age.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Rocket and a friend hitchhike with a guy from São Paulo, intending to kill him as "no one from São Paulo could ever be cool". Cut to the police combing a roadside murder scene...which the trio drive right past. The crime scene is unrelated.
  • Ballistic Discount: Knockout Ned and Lil' Zé hold up gun dealers.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Deconstructed. As Buscapé puts: Zé is ugly and Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) is handsome. However, as the latter becomes more and more He Who Fights Monsters, the line between Good and Evil becomes a little blurred.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Knockout Ned initially stays away from the gangs and urges others to do the same. Later, however, he becomes obsessed with revenge against Lil' Zé, leading to his transformation as a violent gangster.
  • Berserker Tears: Lil' Zé, after Bené's death.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: It takes a LOT of punishment to make Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) snap, but when he does... let's just say Buscapé (Rocket) describes him as a One-Man Army. Even Zé is shown visibly afraid to murder him directly.
  • Big Bad: Lil' Zé stands out as the most violent of the gang bosses whose ambitions for wealth and power effectively drive the plot. Though as the film points out, the gangs who oppose him aren't any better.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Zé is dead, while Buscapé is alive and well on his way to become a photographer. Unfortunately, Mané Galinha and Bené, the only sympathetic gangsters, are also dead, most of the bad guys are on the run, Cidade de Deus hasn't become a much better place and it's about to be the field of an even worse gang war.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: It's a deeply depressing movie, and even the sympathetic characters are morally problematic. Morality doesn't get much blacker than Zé Pequeno however.
  • Black Comedy: When it's not being deeply depressing, it can be a pretty funny movie.
  • Bloodbath Villain Origin: Lil' Zé's murder spree in the hotel.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Both of Knockout Ned's and Zé Pequeno's fates.
  • Book-Ends: The film starts and ends with a truck getting robbed.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Thiago's death.
  • Break the Badass: Happens to Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Lil' Zé received a necklace from a shaman when he "became a man". He was told not to wear it when having sex, or he would die. Much later, it is his rape of Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned)'s girlfriend, while he wore the necklace, that put him in the situation that led to his death.
    • Subverted in scenes surrounding a literal gun. When we first see the gun in The '60s, Marreco is hiding it in a drawer and tells Buscapé to never touch it. Later, in The '70s, Buscapé takes the gun with him during his "flirtation with crime"; however, the gun is never fired or even used in a crime.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) first appears as a very friendly guy who works on a bus and reveals through conversation that he was a former member of the Brazilian Special Operations Brigade, and ridiculously overqualified to kick the ass of anyone who tries to screw with him. He later becomes one of the movie's focal characters and a main villain. Buscapé does state that Mané's story will come later, but then he says that about everything in the film, so it still fits the trope.
    • Also Knockout Ned's killer, a young boy whose father was shot by Knockout Ned during a robbery.
  • Children Are Innocent: Not in this city. Lil' Zé (called Dadinho (or Lil' Dice) at the time) goes on a senseless killing spree in a whorehouse/motel when he is only 12 years old. At the very end of the film, Lil' Zé gets his well-deserved Karmic Death at the hands of The Runts (Caixa Baixa), a group of even younger kids whom he bullied.
  • Child Soldiers: The subversion of the above trope leads to this, obviously.
  • Children Forced to Kill: Has an infamous example in which Lil' Zé forces one small child to kill his even younger friend after they steal from him.
  • Clucking Funny: The chicken chased around in the film's opening /ending even got in the poster.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: So much that (at least in Brazil) the most famous line is "Dadinho é o caralho, meu nome agora é Zé Pequeno, porra!" (translated as "Dadinho my ass! My name now is Zé Pequeno, dammit!")
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Crapsack World
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Lil' Zé
  • Cycle of Revenge
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Subverted/deconstructed in the case of Zé Pequeno and his gang, who become (relatively) rich and respected via their lifestyle, but between trying to extend their power and fighting off would-be rivals don't have time to enjoy it. Averted in the case of Bené and Cabeleira (Shaggy), who realize the lifestyle is brutal and dangerous and try to get out as soon as they have a chance.
    • Rocket briefly tries to embrace this mentality, but finds that he just doesn't have the heart for it.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film's earlier sections focus on a trio of highwaymen called "The Tender Trio". They are Shaggy (Benny's brother), Goose (Rocket's brother), and Clipper. They don't last past the first quarter of the film; their main role is to establish the setting's atmosphere as well as introduce Lil' Dice (Lil' Zé) into a life of crime.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Rocket and Angélica.
  • Dirty Cop: Instead of arresting Zé Pequeno at the end, the cops rob him of his jewelry and turn him loose again. There are also scenes in the beginning where the police kill innocent bystanders by accident, then simply shrug and plant false evidence on them.
  • Dirty Coward: Shorty.
    • Lil' Ze himself and his entire gang, for ganging up a group of small, defenseless, unarmed children, threatening and shooting at them with guns, and even forcing one of the kids to execute one of his friends to survive!
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The reason why Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) becomes a Fallen Hero.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Lil' Zé's breathless laughter as he guns down innocent patrons and workers at a motel is the first indicator that he's an irredeemable sociopath.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The Runts kill Lil' Zé to avenge one of their own (see Sadistic Choice).
    • Lil' Zé is a villainous example. When he was still a kid (then called Lil' Dice), he was bullied by Rocket's older brother Goose. A few months after the motel massacre, the two bump into each other again. Goose callously takes Lil' Dice's money and slaps him for good measure. It proves to be a fatal mistake.
  • The Dragon: Downplayed with Benny. Despite being Lil' Zé's Number Two, he rarely engages in any violence and is an otherwise decent guy who gets along with everyone.
    • Knockout Ned becomes one for Carrot after joining the latter's gang.
  • Exact Words: When Knockout Ned is expanding his war of revenge against Lil' Ze, he asks one of the potential recruits for his gang why the boy wants to get involved in this lifestyle by joining him. The guy tells Ned he's trying to avenge his father's death at Ned's hands
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Benny is Lil' Zé's childhood friend and the only person he has any genuine affection for. Lil' Zé is devastated after Benny's death.
  • Fallen Hero: Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned), to the point of becoming an antagonist.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: The Tender Trio are inseparable throughout their escapades. However, the bloodbath that occurs during the hotel robbery proves to be the end of their crime spree. Clipper wisely chooses to leave the slums and joins the church. The other two opt to stay only for their pasts to catch up with them and are shot dead trying to escape.
  • Forced to Watch: Lil' Ze forces Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) to watch him rape his girlfriend.
  • From Bad to Worse: Things were never good with Lil' Zé as the City of God's most powerful drug lord. With that said, he was reined in by his best friend, Benny, and was able to maintain some degree of order. Benny's death sends him on the warpath, leading to a vicious Mob War which tears the city apart.
    Rocket: The city had been a purgatory. Now it was hell.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Knockout Ned served in the Brazilian Army for an unspecified period of time; he states that he was the best marksman in his squad and that he also learned martial arts during his military service. Though he tried to live an honest life afterwards (he even states that he hoped to get work in a private security firm) the violent circumstances he finds himself pulled into result in him employing his combat skills in an all out gang war.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Lil' Dice starts off as a Small Name, Big Ego punk who is pushed around by the older gangsters. Later - with a few years of robbery and rampant murder under his belt — he gains the fear and respect that he craves. He then decides to go the full mile and take over the drug trade, becoming the most powerful gang boss in the city. He even changes his name to "Lil' Zé" to cement the occasion.
  • Gangbangers: The street gangs in Cidade de Deus are of the drug-wealthy but definitely lower-class variety.
  • Gun Twirling: Lil' Zé does it.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Clipper, a member of the Tender Trio, undergoes a spiritual transformation early in the film. He opts to leave behind his life of crime and join the church. He's the only member of the trio to escape the slums alive.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Lil' Zé and Benny in the first half of the movie.
  • Here We Go Again!: The movie ends with the Runts, a group of young street boys seen throughout the movie, as they make a "death list" of the biggest drug dealers and forming their own gang. Somewhat downplayed in that several of the groups they mention not only existed, but still exist and are still quite powerful, showing that this is most likely a case of Small Name, Big Ego, as it's a group of street kids planning on killing criminal organizations that make the ones in the film look quaint.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned)'s campaign of guerrilla justice against the street gang responsible for the rape of his girlfriend and murder of his brother slowly turns him into exactly the type of person he had been hunting.
  • Homage Shot: The shot in which we see The Tender Trio through the bumper of the gas truck is an homage/spoof of Charlie's Angels (the three boys are seen holding their guns pointing to different ways).
  • How We Got Here: See In Medias Res below.
  • Initiation Ceremony: Lil' Zé initiates some runners, but one of them is shot in the foot and forced to kill another of his choice before they can do so.
  • In Medias Res: The story starts about fifteen minutes before the end of the movie, before the climatic scene unfolds you're told the who's who and what's what that take up most of the rest of the movie.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Rocket is the only person willing to go into Cidade de Deus and take pictures of the crime that goes on there.
  • Ironic Echo: "What makes you think it's yours?"
  • Ironic Nickname:
    • The Tender Trio (Trio Ternura), what a good name for a gang!
    • Giant, the smallest of the children in the Runts.
  • It's Personal: Knockout Ned declares war on Lil' Zé after Zé and his gang come to his house and kill his brother and his uncle, and Zé rapes his girlfriend.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: As above, Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned) originally insists on a Thou Shalt Not Kill rule during robberies, but after Carrot (Cenoura) saves his life by shooting a guard, the exception becomes the rule.
  • Justified Criminal: Almost everyone.
  • Karma Houdini: The corrupt cops. Also a (sad) case of Truth in Television.
  • Karmic Death: Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned), Neguinho (Blacky) and Zé.
  • Klingon Promotion: The only real way to move up in a gang is when someone above in the hierarchy gets killed.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • After spending his life clawing his way to the top, Lil' Zé dies with nothing; his gang's defeated, he's lost all his money, and he's gunned down by the very people he abused in a filthy alley. In short, he loses it all. Now that's Karma.
    • Knockout Ned breaks his own moral code and kills an innocent man. That man's son is the one who kills him.
  • May–December Romance: Rocket loses his virginity to a woman about twice his age.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A very subtle example. The "pai-de-santo" (kind of religious authority) told Zé that, should he have sex while wearing his necklace, he would lose his spiritual protection. After he raped Ned's girlfriend while wearing said necklace, his luck started to go downhill.
  • Might Makes Right: Lil' Zé certainly thinks so. He rises to become a powerful drug lord by murdering all of his competitors and maintains his authority via excessive violence and intimidation.
  • Mob War: Between Lil' Zé and Carrot's gangs. It takes up a good chunk of the narrative later in the film.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Used in one of the fights of the Mob War.
  • Moment Killer: So finally Buscapé gets to make his move on Angélica... then the Runts show up and she chooses to leave.
  • Monochrome Casting: Definitely averted. Brazil is a highly diverse, multiethnic society and the cast reflects that, with skin tones ranging from pale and redheaded (Thiago) to light brown (Angélica) to about as black as it gets (Lil' Zé, Rocket).
  • Mood Whiplash: The scene where Shorty's wife is getting sex advice is actually pretty funny. A few minutes later, she's buried alive by her husband for cheating on him.
    • Benny's going-away party is fun and lighthearted, with Rocket commenting on how he managed to bring all sorts of groups together. He's dead within minutes as well, although his death is practically telegraphed.
    • Rocket getting the shot of Zé's gang posing with their guns at the end of the film feels oddly lighthearted in contrast to the dark and violent scenes of the film. Then the final battle happens.
  • Morality Chain: Bené to Li'l Zé.
  • Morality Pet: As Jerkass as Goose was, he cared about his brother Rocket, and wanted him to study and stay out of criminal life, making him promise to never use his gun.
  • Montages: Many.
  • Motive Decay: The gang war between Lil' Zé and Carrot's gangs. It builds up with the former encroaching on the latter's territory. Later it kicks off with Knockout Ned's initiation into Carrot's gang as a way to get revenge on Lil' Zé. Over time, the violence escalates to a point where no one remembers how it started in the first place.
  • Murder by Mistake: Blacky shows up wanting to kill Zé but kills Benny by mistake.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Lil' Zé's philosophy on life.
  • Nice Guy: Benny is about as nice a guy as one could possibly be. So much so that everyone adores him despite his ties to Lil'Zé.
    • Rocket counts too. Despite his insecurities, he is a decent, well-meaning young man who is treated well by most people.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-universe. Rocket thinks that Zé will want to kill him over his pictures getting published in the paper, but Zé is pleased by his apparent rise in fame.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The City of God is a pretty terrible place, and certainly doesn't come across as holy.
  • No Social Skills: One of the reasons why Lil' Zé is so good at being a violent gang boss is because, simply put, he doesn't know how to be anything else.
  • Offing the Annoyance: A Motor Mouthed gang member called Tuba gets killed by Lil' Ze for talking too much. It may be a case of Too Dumb to Live. When your boss kills people for fun, praising the skills of the guy who just killed a few of his mooks, then shot him in the arm, isn't the best idea.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Nearly all of the characters. We only hear Buscapé's official name at the end of the movie. This is Truth in Television; Brazil is very much a nickname society, and favelas even more so.
  • Pet the Dog: The only good thing about Li'l Zé is that he actually gives a rat's ass about his friend Bené. He gives Buscapé the camera because Bené would have wanted it. And he leaves Carrot alone because he's friends with Bené. Doesn't make him any less of a monster.
  • Porn Stache: Lil' Zé.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: While not necessarily the protagonist, Knockout Ned's character arc fits this trope perfectly. He starts off as a decent man who wants nothing to do with a life of crime and encourages others to stay away from it. After Lil' Zé attacks his family, however, he join's Carrot's gang as a way to get revenge. He tries to maintain a code of ethics, but finds that it's just not possible as a gun-toting hood, to a point where killing becomes easier for him. Ultimately he ends up perpetuating the violence that he initially abhorred, and he pays for it with his life.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Lil' Zé
  • Rape as Drama: Zé rapes Knockout Ned's girlfriend in revenge, incensed that she didn't want to dance with him at the club.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Lil' Zé's gang uses this trope as an initiation for new members. One of their younger recruits, Steak N' Fries, invokes this when questioned by Knockout Ned.
    Ned: Can't you see you're wrecking your life? You're just a kid.
    Steak: A kid? I smoke, snort. I've robbed and killed. I'm a man.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Giving small children loaded revolvers? Yeah, that's how seriously gun safety is taken in Cidade de Deus.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Li'l Zé and Bené, respectively.
  • Remonstrating with a Gun
  • Retirony: Bené is shot dead at his going-away party just before he gets out of the gangster life. And the shooter wasn't even trying to shoot him. And if that weren't ironic enough, the shooter was only even alive in the first place because Bené convinced Zé to let him live.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Zé's Weapon of Choice, for one.
  • Romantic False Lead: Thiago and Bené (to some degree).
  • Running Gag: Tuba constantly irritates Lil' Zé by talking too much. When he's finally fed up, he shoots him.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Bené.
  • Sadistic Choice: Lil' Zé offers one to two Runts in order to send a message: they get to choose whether to be shot in the hand or the foot. When they both choose to be shot in the hand, he shoots them both in the foot. He then initiates one of his younger gang members by giving him the Sadistic Choice of choosing which one of the two kids to kill and which one to let go.
  • Scary Black Man: Many of the characters are (incidentally) black, but Zé stands out for being both dark-skinned and having a crazed stare.
  • Scenery Gorn: The City of God itself is an incredibly gorgeous wreck.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Lil' Dice in the Cannes poster. His entire gang in this one.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Buscapé.
  • Shovel Strike: Shorty against his wife, once he finds her cheating on him.
  • Slasher Smile: Lil' Zé. It might as well be his default expression.
  • The Sociopath: Again, Lil' Zé.
  • Subtitle Name Change: Many:
    • Buscapé (Firecracker) to Rocket
    • The main villain, José Eduardo:
      • Zé Pequeno ("Little José") to Lil' Zé
      • Dadinho ("Eddie") to Lil' Dice (which is also a direct translation)
    • Bené to Benny (direct translation)
    • Cenoura to Carrot (direct translation)
    • Mané Galinha ("Chicken Manny") to Knockout Ned (A Pragmatic Adaptation, since "chicken" means "coward" in English.)
    • Cabeleira ("Hairy") to Shaggy (also Pragmatic Adaptation, retaining the original sexual overtones)
    • Marreco ("Garganey") to Goose
    • Alicate ("Pliers") to Clipper
    • Barbantinho ("Beardy") to Stringy
    • Filé-com-Fritas to Steak-With-Fries (direct translation)
    • Neguinho to Blacky (direct translation)
    • Tio Sam to Uncle Sam (direct translation)
  • Stop Motion Lighting: Happens during the final song at Benny's going-away party, as he and Lil' Zé fight for the camera. It's also what prevents anyone from seeing Blacky kill Benny. And also partly responsible for causing him to miss Zé in the first place.
  • Taking You with Me: A variation occurs at the end. Otto, one of Knockout Ned's mooks, ends up killing his leader before dying of his gunshot wounds.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Lil' Zé and his gang. Alone, he was responsible for at least hundreds of deaths.
  • Time Skip: The early sections of the film take place in The '60s. The story then jumps forward six years later into The '70s.
  • That Man Is Dead: Lil' Zé insists that other people call him by his new name after undergoing a religious initiation at the hands of a witch doctor. So much that being called "Lil' Dice" leads to the famous line listed on Cluster F-Bomb.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Ned's brother getting murdered by Zé's gang, and Zé himself getting murdered by the Runts in what they call a "Soviet attack".
  • There Is Only One Bed: How Rocket finally loses his virginity after trying and failing for most of the film.
  • Time Passes Montage: On the drug dealer's rapidly decaying apartment.
  • Token Good Teammate: Bené to Zé's gang.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Bené is shot before he can completely retire from his gangster life.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Dadinho (Lil' Dice) is merely the most extreme example. Also, the Runts at the end when they avenge the death of their friend by Lil' Zé.
  • Useless Protagonist: Buscapé. Though he meets and talks to several of the characters (and get in danger more than once) he doesn't interfere in any ways with the conflicts of the gangs, or even in the plot. He is meant to be nothing more than a witness of violence, and a narrator. His character is completely neutral: he doesn't act violent, but doesn't do anything against Lil' Zé either.
  • Villainous BSoD: Mané (Ned) experiences this when he encounters the child of a man he murdered in Lil' Zé's gang, which makes his death kind of tragic.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Bené has very few qualms with murder and robbery, that said, people still like him because he's not an asshole and the people he kills aren't the kind most people mourn.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Angélica disappears after Bené's death. Clipper and Shaggy's girlfriend from the first sequence also don't meet a conclusion, though escaping gang violence is the happiest their endings can get at this point.
    • Shaggy's girlfriend is (very briefly) seen after the Time Skip and is implied to have become a prostitute.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Subverted, since the mook's son avenges his father, killing Mané Galinha (Knockout Ned).
  • Would Hurt a Child: Lil' Zé has no qualms about shooting a little kid to make a point.
  • Wretched Hive: Cidade de Deus itself.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Other characters say this to Rocket.
    • Bené at one point tells Lil' Zé that he needs a girlfriend, which is pretty much a less rude way of this.


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