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City of God - Movie Thoughts

'City of God' is the cousin of 'City of Joy' in the titular sense. While the former refers the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the latter represents the Kolkata equivalent - neither god nor joy is found in both the places. 'City of Joy' offers a fast-paced account of the story of a few gangsters, but by devoting a good deal of time on a handful of sub-plots, Fernando Meirelles, the director tells us the story of the slums. When I zoom out of the characters and look at the movie, I get a slice of the life of these kids and young men in the 60's and 70's, which I think is the movie's accomplishment.

City of God was constructed by the state to keep the poor people away from the office-going, tax-paying Rio population. The gangsters of the slum loot shops and trade drugs - but they can never get rich because their entire world of business operations are restricted to the City of God. If they display their sleight of hand outside of their region of freedom, the police would break their knuckles. And as long as these people keep the police happy (through black money and drugs) they will oblige. Meirelles captures the bleakness of the slum life with great force and high energy that we actually don't feel depressed in spite of the material. In an shattering scene, a boy of less than 10 years is forced to kill another boy of similar age. But Meirelles manages a poetic justice by allowing the kids from the victim's gang to take their revenge, which is served cold.

The opening scene captures the essence of the movie: A gang of about a dozen young men are getting ready for a chicken feast. When a chicken escapes and flies through the narrow streets of the slum, all of them pull out their hand guns and chase. There is a heavy investment on arms and ammunitions that they don't feel it's a waste of money to shower bullets on a chicken. And since one takes up a gun, not to dictate or look cool but to survive, most of the gangsters are are young and if luck wouldn't favour them, they die young. And when somebody dies young leaving their friend or brother alive, they wouldn't have an option but to pick up the loaded hand gun lying next to the body and get ready for their hunt.

There is not much trust and/or friendship among these slum dwellers: factions divide to form sub factions; factions come together to finish off a common enemy; there is no acceptance of a gangster, only submission, which is out of fear; and in one case when a friendship was budding between a cold gangster and his hip/cool/moderate friend, it's nipped because of an accident which results in the death of the latter. The movie is not all bang-em, shoot-em scenes, there are occasional sprinkles of humour: Rocket, the narrator's first sexual encounter with an elderly woman working for a newspaper has dry wit. There is another sequence when he sets out to mug the general public and finds each of his potential victims to be either 'cool' or 'good' that he can't force himself to point his gun at them.

The screenplay often challenges the viewer with it's narration: in the middle of a story, upon the entry of a new character, we suddenly jump to that character's story and in that inside story we are revealed something relevant to the first story and the forthcoming story. Though character development seems stunted because of this looping structure, at the end of the movie we know what we need to know about whoever mattered. This movie has been compared to 'Goodfellas', but I don't think both belong to the same class of movies. But they both offer a brutally honest commentary on the other side of the society.

2 Responses to “City of God - Movie Thoughts”

  1. # Anonymous Raffic

    Hey Prasad,

    I watched the movie just yday and while watching I was not able to travel back and fro as fast as the screenplay was... and at some stage I was unable to follow what was going on. But once the movie got over I could not resist thinking of it.

    I felt Cinematography, Editing, Screenplay are of totally in daring new style. The best thing of the movie is its very rawness, even we can smell the characters.

    This movie is the best example for a simple strory narrated BRILLIANTLY (screenplay + cinematography + editing + performance).

    I want/will watch it again. Do we have a english version(dubbed)of this?  

  2. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    Raffic,
    I'm not sure if there's a dubbed version and even if there is one I suggest you disregard it. In some cases, subtitles are far better.  

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