Film Analysis: City of God

2002 Brazilian crime drama directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Katia Lund.  The film was made on a $3.83 million budget (US dollars) and grossed over $30 million worldwide.  In 2004, the film received four Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Writing.

An exemplary piece that depicts the circle of life, City of God illustrates the lives of teenagers in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The cycle of the drug lords is circular, as the older generation of drug lords always dissolves while a new generation takes their place as leaders and guardians of their favelas.  This cycle can first be seen in the beginning of the movie when three teenager thieves are idolized by the younger kids and protected by the elders of the villages in exchange for them sharing their “earnings” with the citizens. The trio is named Shaggy, Clipper, and Goose. They let one of their younger followers convince them to run down a motel.  While breaking into the motel rooms to steal from the clients, the teens leave the young boy, named Lil’ Dice, as watchman. Lil’ Dice is a sadistic murderer who takes pleasure in killing others.  While the teens are breaking into the rooms, Lil’ Dice goes into the hotel and kills all the employees and then proceeds to kill the clients as well, without the gang of boys realizing it.  Shortly after this incident, the gang breaks up with Clipper joining the church, Shaggy getting shot down by police offers while trying to escape the town, and Lil’ Dice killing Goose for taking some of Lil’ Dice’s earnings. When the audience can finally breathe a sigh of relief because the town delinquents are all gone, the movie fast-forwards to the 1970s.  Goose’s little brother is now a teenager dreaming of becoming a photographer and Lil’ Dice is now the new leader of City of God, except he goes by Lil’ Ze now. As the leader and major drug dealer of the town, crimes have gone down.  Lil’ Ze and his friends are the new generation of town delinquents. Though his best friend Benny does not take pleasure in the killings of others, and thus he convinces Lil’ Ze to spare the life of his rival drug dealer Carrot. At this point, the movie has gone in a complete circle and the older generation has been completely forgotten and the storyline now revolves around this new generation of teenagers in the favela.  Benny is accidently mistaken for Lil’ Ze at a night club and shot by one of Carrot’s people, leading him to take out his anger out on an innocent bystander named Ned. The drug lord beats up Ned, rapes his girlfriend, and kills his brother.  As if that was not enough, he also enlists people to kill Ned, consequently pushing Ned to join forces with Carrot and starting a drug war in City of God. All this time the story is being told through the eyes of the young wannabe photographer Buscape, who is documenting the story through personal experience and photographs.  He witnesses the end of the drug war between Carrot and Lil’ Ze, and when the new younger generation kills Lil’ Ze to take over his business.  Watching the scene of the young kids kill Lil’ Ze is like a flashback of when Lil’ Ze himself had killed Goose in the beginning of the movie.  This closes the circle for the movie as the audience has already seen three generations of drug lords/ thieves in this awful neighborhood.  Though it is not hard to say that the trend will most likely continue, yet the audience can find some comfort in the motto “what goes around comes around”, since that is exactly what they have just finished watching.

If all the blood shed isn’t sickening enough, the last sentence on the screen stating that the movie is based on true events sure is. This movie is very real in the sense that it gives outsiders a look into what the lives of some of these children are like.  When one thinks Brazil, they think beaches, a giant Jesus statue, the 2014 World Cup, the 2016 Olympics, Adrianna Lima, and Giselle Bundchen. They may not necessarily think favelas, drugs, crimes, and poor people.  More recently, Hollywood has picked up on the topic of the favelas in Brazil and has incorporated Rio de Janeiro’s slums into some movies, such as The Incredible Hulk and Fast Five. The international recognition of City of God as called attention on the topic of these slums and the children in them.

Due to the success of the movie, the directors went on to create a television series named City of Men, using some of the same lead actors and the setting of City of God.  Director Fernando Meirelles had preciously studied architecture at the University of Sao Paolo, but became involved in experimental filming while still in school.  Meirelles, along with four other friends began a career in filmmaking and eventually opened their own production company. Shortly after, the director became involved in advertising and the friends shut down the film company and opened an advertising agency named O2, which Meirelles is still a partner of today. His co-director for City of God, Katia Lund, was very well educated on the topic of the favelas before shooting the movie.  She had gone to film a music video for Michael Jackson and became fascinated with favelas, determined to make films about the poor people.  In 1996, she made a documentary about the drug wars in the slums of Brazil and received much attention from famous hip hop artists of the country.  In 2001, Lund was invited by Meirelles to help co-direct a short movie about some young boys in the favelas.  They continued on to cooperate together in City of God and City of Men.

Most of the actors that can be seen in the movie are actually children from the favela of the movie.  After the movie was complete, the crew took action to relocate the children and help get them out of City of God. The children were used for authenticity and also because ten years ago in Brazil there were not many black actors to play the parts. The best known actor in City of God is Matheus Nachtergaele who plays Carrot. Nachtergaele had previously won Best Actor at the Brazilian Cinema Great Awards for his 1998 role in the movie Midnight at for his role in the 2000 movie O Auto da Compadecida.  A lot of the actors in the leading roles have gone on to do other big projects, some even in Hollywood. Alice Braga who played Angelica has recently starred in Elysium and in 2007 starred in I Am Legend. Phellipe Haagensen (Benny), Alexandre Rodriguez (Buscape), and Jonathan Haagensen (Shaggy) are three of the main roles that went on to star in City of Men. Jonathan and Phellipe are brothers in real life. Seu Jorge is a Brazilian singer now. Jorge starred in many big movies after his role as Ned in the film, such as The Life Aquatic with Steve ZIssou (also featuring Bill Murray), House of Sand, and The Escapist.

The crew filming City of God were all professionals though the movie gave off the effect that everything from the actors to the filming was amateur.  A lot of the scenes were shot at low angles, without tripods, and at slanted curves.  When Buscape is at the beach kissing Angelica, the camera is slated almost sideways and very close up to their faces.  While during the filming of the scene where Lil’ Ze forces the little boy to kill the other boy for stealing, the camera is put at the level of Lil’ Ze’s legs, and almost all the time the camera is shaky and moving. These techniques give the audience a very realistic tone to the movie.  These along with Buscape’s narration make City of God seem almost like a documentary. Overall, the success of the movie is well deserved as the directors helped open the eyes of the international crowd and everything was well done. Though the picture was very violent, it was based on true events which helps one take everything they see more seriously.  This film was the beginning for a lot of people’s acting careers and even helped director Fernando Meirelles receive many job offers from Hollywood.  City of God is the perfect example of the Post-Cinema Novo Brazilian Cinema movement.


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