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City of God

Hands down, one of the most powerful movies of the last ten years is City of God. I reviewed the film for The Economist along with the Sokhorov meditation, Russian Ark, then got another stab at a review of it in The Times Literary Supplement. (ps. If you dug this film, you should definitely check out Manda Bala, a superbly creative and well-produced documentary about violence and corruption in Brazil).

Here’s an excerpt from the TLS article:

From the US-Mexican border (El Mariachi) and Mexico City (Amores Perros, Y Tu Mama Tambien), to Brazil (Central Station) and Argentina (Nine Queens), Latin American cinema is resurgent. Perhaps we have television to thank for this; during the 1980s, television colonized South America as it had the US in the 1950s and Europe in the 60s. The latest film-maker to graduate from the small screen is Fernando Meirelles, and his film, City of God, is possibly the best Brazilian movie of the past ten years. Walter Salles, director of Central Station (1998), is one of the film’s producers, and his own brand of social realism is everywhere apparent in City of God; but where Salles used his camera as a passive observer, with an almost patrician detachment, Meirelles turns his into a character. The camera and crew, though off-screen, are ever present. Awareness of the camera lends the film a documentary feel and gives it its dynamism and pull.

Based on Paolo Lins’s book of the same name, City of God charts the rise of drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro’s infamous favelas, from the early 1960s to the late 70s. Salles believes that “Brazilian reality has surpassed the majority of attempts to portray it in fiction”, and that “the acceleration of social decomposition has transformed violence into a banality”. But Meirelles, undaunted, has found a way of presenting that reality on film. With co-director, Katia Lund, and Guti Fraga, who founded and runs an acting and theatre school in the hillside favela of Vidigal, he set up a studio at Rio’s Fundicao Progresso to find and train children for the hundred or so roles needed for the film, and named the group, “We From the Movies”, in homage to Fraga’s school, “We From the Hillside”. But, as in Lins’s book, the film’s main character is not a person but a place -one of Rio’s worst favelas, the City of God. The film was shot on location and uses only natural lighting. The actors are mainly non-professional kids from the favelas. The script was used only to guide, not dictate, the dialogue. As a result, the audience is deeply involved in the story: we are participating witnesses to the descent into violence and anarchy.

And you can read the whole article here.

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