From Atlantis to Interzone


Comments on the style of ‘City of God’
July 27, 2009, 12:44 am
Filed under: Film

Untitled-2

If City of God, as director Fernando Meirelles has stated, was made with the intention to showcase the poverty and violence of the titular Brazilian favela, then it can be seen that the most interesting thing about the style of the film is how it differs from films with similar intentions.

The general stereotype of films exposing the poverty in certain places is that they are set to a meandering pace and traditionally focus less on the characters of the piece and more on the injustices presented in the setting, with a notable example of this type of film being The Killing Fields (1984), which concerns a journalist in war-torn Cambodia. Whilst there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this style of filmmaking, it doesn’t always make for engaging viewing and the aforementioned style of pacing makes it hard to make these films to appeal to a wide audience, and thus, box office success will not necessarily be guaranteed for such a film. A generally more successful type of film, in terms of box office, is a gangster film, so what Meirelles has done with City of God is attempt to get across the messages of similar “worthy” productions but under the guise of familiar genre trappings of the crime genre. This not only makes the film’s style interesting for its blending of two usually different types of film, but it is also interesting to consider how the appeal of the film becomes so much wider thanks to this blending of styles.

The two gangster films that City of God appears to borrow from most are Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and his latter film Casino, which bears strong similarities to its predecessor in terms of style. One of the most notable stylistic flourishes of the three films is their use of narration. The two Scorsese films consist of protagonists narrating a vast majority of the scenes, and City of God does the same; the voice of Rocket, our narrator, is ever present and we hear more of him throughout the film than we actually see of him. Each of the three films involves the narrator providing us with character histories and detailed accounts of events, and in all three, arguably shocking events are handled in an almost ‘matter-of-fact’ way; Henry Hill generally maintains a consistent tone of voice throughout Goodfellas and Rocket of ‘City of God’ rarely shows any emotion concerning the information he presents us with. Indeed, one of the ways in which Rocket’s narration is different from that found in the Scorsese films concerns his lack of significance in the overall story. Whilst Henry Hill is present in the displayed events of Goodfellas, much of what Rocket narrates is information that he has gotten without first-hand experience. Meirelles seems to use Rocket in the more traditional third-person sense, so that the viewer receives a barrage of information, rather than following the exploits of a singular character.

The other most interesting influence that Martin Scorsese has on Meirelles’ film relates to the pacing, and thus the editing. Avoiding the almost epic length of “issue” films such as Blood Diamond and the aforementioned The Killing Fields, Meirelles’ film’s pace is unusually fast for its genre. As previously stated, the viewer is fed a ton of information in each scene but the film does not feel necessarily feel like it is bogged down with exposition. Like with the Scorsese films, a variety of editing techniques are used. For much of the film there seems to be a lot of frantic cutting. This is done to both demonstrate the chaos of the favelas but also to keep the attention of viewers. In this sense, the filmmakers have been influenced by the MTV style of editing, which involves an arguably excessive amount of frequent cuts. This influence is an unusual one, both “issue” and gangster films, so the stylistic choice made here makes for an intriguing watch. Another editing decision worth considering is the non-linear narrative in the vein of the two Scorsese films. Although a non-linear narrative isn’t exactly a new thing in the gangster genre, it is most unusual for an “issue” film to sequence events in such an order as they are presented in this film.

Untitled-1

The most interesting thing about the cinematography is its use in the three different eras in the film. In the early stages where Rocket is a child, there is a gold tint to everything, representing both the heat and the idea that this was the golden age of the favela. Due to the generally relaxed atmosphere, and the space in the favela, there is a lack of creative shots. Once we reach the era of Li’l Zé’s rise to power, everything changes. With the space now replaced with large buildings cramped together, Meirelles abandons the gold tint and instead incorporated grimier colours like grey and brown. With such an imposing environment, the character of Li’l Zé needs to appear powerful, so many of his scenes are shot from a low angle. This both makes him look taller and thus imposing like the buildings, but it also looks as though the camera is representing the eyes of one of his victims; in a few cases, this is actually the case. The final stage of the film, with Knockout Ned’s war with Zé has more of a documentary feel to it. There are a lack of tints to scenes, and the final battle is shot in such a way that it looks like the cameraman is actually caught up in the midst of a gang battle. As everything goes to hell, the stylistic flourishes appear to almost diminish, which is an intriguing choice.

One of the only things to say about the sound is that the style of music incorporated is noticeably different from that found in other “issue” productions. Avoiding the traditional dramatic score, Meirelles instead opts for traditional Brazilian samba music as well as a variety of period music in the disco sequences. The generally upbeat music makes for an odd contrast with many of the events on screen, and this non-diegetic sound is interesting in that it often helps to make the events on screen enjoyable rather than horrific, as they are arguably intended to be.

As previously stated, the style of City of God is mostly interesting in how it differentiates from the style incorporated in the sub-genre that Meirelles claims the film is a part of. Whilst it can be argued that this excess of stylistic flourishes diminishes the messages of the film, it can’t really be deemed an uninteresting approach, however misguided it may be.

– Autumn 2007
That’s the last of my high school film essays, I promise.

Advertisements

1 Comment so far
Leave a comment

[…] The most interesting thing about the cinematography is its use in the three different eras in the film. In the early stages where Rocket is a child, there is a gold tint to everything, representing both the heat and the idea that this was the golden age of the favela. Due to the generally relaxed atmosphere, and the space in the favela, there is a lack of creative shots. Once we reach the era of Li’l Zé’s rise to power, everything changes. With the space now replaced with large buildings cramped together, Meirelles abandons the gold tint and instead incorporated grimier colours like grey and brown. With such an imposing environment, the character of Li’l Zé needs to appear powerful, so many of his scenes are shot from a low angle. This both makes him look taller and thus imposing like the buildings, but it also looks as though the camera is representing the eyes of one of his victims; in a few cases, this is actually the case. The final stage of the film, with Knockout Ned’s war with Zé has more of a documentary feel to it. There are a lack of tints to scenes, and the final battle is shot in such a way that it looks like the cameraman is actually caught up in the midst of a gang battle. As everything goes to hell, the stylistic flourishes appear to almost diminish, which is an intriguing choice. (Read more) […]

Pingback by #TBT: City of God (Meirelles/2002) | ARCBLOG




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: