City Of God Analysis

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The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of City Of God Analysis. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.

Thesis: Powerful and gripping it may be, but ultimately Cidade de Deus is a film of despair, offering a one-dimensional view of urban culture in a Brazil where social divisions appear too wide to bridge, and where millions are too brutalized by violence and poverty to contribute to any process of change.

City of God (Cidade de Deus) is a brilliant piece of film making. The reality with which brutality and violence is presented to the audience alongside the circumstances of their happening is of highest artistic merit. Yet, in spite of all its cinematic accomplishments, the movie’s utility as an agent of social change is very limited indeed. It is this assertion that would serve as the thesis for this paper.

The authenticity for the film and its narrative comes from the fact that it was based on a real shanty town in a corner of Rio de Janeiro.

It captures the lives of its inhabitants across three generations in one of the most dangerous places that the civilized world had seen. Consistent with its gangster theme, the movie depicts “rise and fall of petty empires, the brief supernova of gangster superstardom, the overturning of an older order by a yet meaner, more ruthless younger one; these events are lit up, here and there, by little spurts of recognizable behaviour, even love”.

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In other words, it is a movie targeted to a young male audience. In doing so, the movie loses its appeal to a larger audience, thereby reducing a widespread social impact that is expected of all social documentaries (fictitious, re-enacted or conjured) (Corliss, 2003).

City Of God 2003

That is not so say that the movie is an endorsement of nihilism. Beneath the surface of violence and distress is the finer expression of tragedy, which anchors disparate parts of the narrative. City of God is not just another run-of-mill gangster movie. The gangsters of Rio de Janeiro are unique. The director pays attention to detail in showing the idiosyncrasies of these gangsters. The portrayal of these youngsters comes across as genuine. For example they are shown to be “scruffy, dirty, scampering around on the dusty play-fields and squalid alleys, their body language expressing the weightlessness of their thin bones and scrawny chests, their clothes just any old rags, their feet bare or sporting flip-flops” (Corliss, 2003). This description will suit the young inhabitants of any urban slum, but what sets the youngsters of City of God apart is the fact that they carry guns. In a society where force is the only way of life and where “might is right”, a gun acts as a symbol of social status. The more sophisticated the machine, the more fear and awe that it elicits from the society (Corliss, 2003).

The central character in the movie is that of Alexandre Rodrigues, who plays the role of “Rocket”, someone who does not fit into the gangster setup as he explores possible options for livelihood. The word “livelihood” may seem irrelevant to the lives of teenagers in civil societies but not quite in the City of God. The narrative essentially revolves around how Rocket grows up in the hostile environment of his slum and how he finally manages to break away (if only superficially) from the volatile conditions to a more organized one in the form of a professional photographer. Rocket might be the central character in the film, but to call him the protagonist would be inappropriate. In fact, the different contexts of his life were the real focal points of the story.

Right from his early days with his brother (who was part of the notorious Tender Trio) to his acquaintance with the diabolical Li’l Dice, Rocket’s life is full of uncertainties and risks. Once again, while the film invokes disgust and outrage as a result of the inhuman behaviour of its characters, it fails to propose an alternative way of life. It is as if, violence and death are the “only” order of things in the impoverished and oppressed communities living in the City of God (The Economist, 2003).

The evolution of Li’l Dice, from an aspiring gangster 10 years of age to the cold-blooded, ruthless and ambitious leader of the pack is shown with cinematic excellence. But, the qualities mentioned above were not acquired by Li’l Dice as a result of his experiences. Instead, a taste of what to come in the future was to be seen during his very first participation in a Tender Trio operation.

After the Tender Trio leave the looted motel with the money, the young Li’l Dice satiates his sinister longing to kill human beings by shooting the staff and clientele of the motel. This merciless and unnecessary killing of innocent people sets the theme for his subsequent adventures. But, as many critics have pointed out, it is difficult to fathom what the moral lessons from all these sequence of events. In defence of the director of the film, it is not his obligation to preach to his audience about what is right and wrong. On the other hand, making sense of the carnage induced by Li’l Dice and his accomplices remains a challenge to the audience. In this regard, it is difficult to conceive the movie’s contribution to positive social change (Publishers Weekly, 2006).

As noted critic Wesley Morris points out, “there’s something distasteful in the rote way this film introduces us to two dozen hapless, heartless kids and doesn’t care enough to make us feel for them. It would rather doll up the slum and memorialize the trigger-happy thugs infesting it”. But its roots lie in the evolution of Fernando Meirelles as a director of feature films from his humble origins as an ad-filmmaker in his native Brazil(Schwarz, 2001).

The characterization of Li’l Dice must have been the most challenging to director Meirelles. From his first victim in the form of Rocket’s brother to the later drug-dealing, megalomaniacal gang leader to his ruthless control of the place’s cartel a consistent and coherent picture of Li’l Dice emerges. Meirelles must be credited for his stellar role in bringing this challenging narrative to screen. All through Li’l Dice’s different adventures, the narrative alternates between the innocuous to the diabolical. For example, for every horrifying scene of Li’l dice’s atrocities, there’s a “touristic splendour” usually involving Rocket.

Yet, if feature films have anything to do with inclusiveness, this “sweat and adrenaline infested machismo cocktail” has nothing to offer women audiences. Excluding nearly one half of potential audience makes City of God a niche movie, targeted to the young adult male age group. To this extent, the film does nothing to bridge existing inequalities between the genders in what is a male-dominated Brazilian society.

The movie’s ineffectiveness in serving as an agent of changing social policies in Brazil is captured accurately in the following passage:

“If there’s an indictment here, it never surfaces. Taken from a Paulo Lins novel and based on a true story (as the film is happy to boast at its conclusion), the film sensualizes the violence cycle and makes a fetish of poverty. What ought to be devastating and tragic about ”City of God” is discomfiting in its offhandedness. This isn’t a movie; it’s a soulless pictorial.” (Schwarz, 2001)

Another unusual aspect of the film is the way it demystifies the darker realities of Rio de Janeiro. For example, movies such as That Night in Rio that have achieved critical acclaim focus on the genteel aspects of life in the city as opposed to City of God that concentrates on the city’s underworld through out. There’s no equivalent film in the post Second World War period that depicts the lives of drug kingpins and their counterparts in such a electrifying way. In fact, the tempo for it is set right at the beginning scene and is maintained throughout. Director Meirelles employs subtlety as well as he shows examples of “young people managing to carve out successful careers”. But disappointingly, most of the rest of the film concerns “unbroken cycles of squalor”, making the social class divisions all the starker (Schwarz, 2001).

Alongside the co-director Katia Lund, Meirelles goes to great lengths to keep the audience engrossed in the story. The narrator of the story, Rocket, appears in periodic interludes to inform the audience about the sequence to come later. The directors also employ the technique of repeating some important scenes that were left incomplete earlier. Hence, the sequences are not chronologically arranged but interwoven based on the context. By employing this device, the filmmakers take away the strain of watching a two hour long movie that has generous displays of violence. Also, by using this technique, the directors are able to show how “a perceived hero becomes a villain, and characters we assume are going to be around at the end suddenly exit the City of God” (Kavanagh, 2002). So much for the film’s technical merits, but in terms of its emphasis on providing a solution to the chaotic life of the City of God, it fails. For example,

“If one of the moral responsibilities of the movies is to put you in places where you’d never go and live lives you’d never live, then “City of God” is great moviemaking. This one admits no other moral responsibilities. It merely gazes pitilessly at the real, and maybe that reality is too hard to take. It offers scant optimism to policymakers of any stripe. It advises liberals that social programs are pointless when applied to the violent vitality of the streets, and it advises conservatives that stern bromides about responsibility are as ineffective against the will to violence as a fistful of feathers. It says man is dark and doomed and stupid. But it also says he’s alive and kicking and magnificent.” (Kavanagh, 2002)

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City Of God Analysis
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