Saturday, January 08, 2005

City of God (DVD)

(Dir Fernando Mierelles)

I can't think of a less appropriate name for the setting of this movie, the favelas or slums of Rio De Janeiro, which is based on the real history of the place. Through to the 1960's the police had control, but the police themselves were out of control - they tended to lord it over the City of God and victimise its inhabitants. Then they lost their power, as the result of a mistake by the powers that be. They had taken a handful of political prisoners, intellectuals, and thrown them into prison with about 60 violent (i.e. normal) criminals in the belief that they'd be beaten up and suppressed. Instead, the handful dominated and made converts of the other criminals - they all went back to the City of God and started up drug running operations as a means of obtaining peace and prosperity. This worked for a while, as the corrupt Police became scared to come in, but then tensions arose between various factions. This is where the film picks up the story.

So, what we have is a number of areas within the City of God, each run by a seperate drug "lord" (teenagers, according to the movie). Li'l Dice is about 12 or 13 at this stage - he comes up with this great plan for a group of older boys he hangs out with to hold up a motel used for prostitution. The problem is, they think he's too young to be involved and have him stand guard. He gets bored, gives the signal that the cops are on the way, then goes in and pretty much kills everyone in sight. He's 12, right, and laughing with maniacal glee - one of the most shocking scenes in the movie. We don't see much of what happens in the meantime, but on his 18th birthday, he decides to take over as boss of the entire City of God, killing off all opposition save one, who he can use and is a kind of mate. Of course, that one ends up being the enemy, and the latter part of the movie becomes a pitched battle between Li'l Dice and Carrot and their respective gangs. As Li'l Dice has ripped off the police over a deal for guns, they get involved as well.

This is a hugely violent movie, with scores of dead bodies left in the trail of the gang wars. The most horrifying thing was how young all the players were, I doubt there was anyone over 20 and there was a new generation of gang coming through, the Runts. We've probably all heard of gang initiations: in this movie, we see a scene in which two young kids are given the choice of being shot in the hand or the foot, then a fellow of about 14 being told to pick one and kill him as a form of induction. Unlike a violent movie by, say Tarantino, where we are very aware that it is staged, this one had a feeling of immediacy, as if everything was actually happening as we saw it. So, top marks for the cinematography and the acting, despite the fact that many of the "actors" were not.

The other storyline was that of Rocket, a young fellow the same age as Li'l Dice, whose brother was one of those who held up the motel. So, being a hoodlum was an obvious possible career choice for him, but he wanted something else. Pure luck inteverned, so that he got a break: he met his hero, the photographer of the local paper. Then it happened again - he was picked up by Li'l Dice to take some photos and by a mix up, his photos made it to the front page of the newspaper. So, his function is really as narrator of what's happening, and has a pretty blessed existence - he photographs throughout the final showdown without ever being caught up in it.

Apparently, the whole idea of the City of Gods and the other favelas was a social experiment, to put the underclass out of sight (I know Indira Ghandi did much the same in India, just as recounted in Rohinton Mistry's fabulous A Fine Balance). Thanks in particular to this movie, there have been attampts at social reforms, to try and clean up some of the problems portrayed in it. I have no idea how successful these moves have been but won't be holding my breath.


Blogger looby said...

Hmm - I thought it was one of those films which deliberately set out to shock you visually rather than bothering with the harder task of creating the context in which the violence would really shock you.

It seemed to be designed to showcase the violence of the favela for the vicarious enjoyment of people living in more stable countries.

7:10 AM  

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