Last week, we featured reviews from two students on the 2002 film City of God. Below is another perspective on the same film, written by Jet Fuel Review Managing Editor Sam Gennett.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, City of God (2002) is a formalist film that explores the binary between power and peace through outstanding cinematography. The film takes place in Rio de Janeiro during the 1970s where our narrator, Rocket, walks us through the story of a poverty-stricken town that’s ruled by superfluous amounts of gun violence.
Many of the scenes are shot in high contrast lighting with subtle tints of gold, which resembles a photograph from the 70s and effectively catapults the viewer into the era. This tinting also connotes gold as the characters’ thirst for riches and power — the two ultimate driving forces for everyone in the film. In many scenes, the dominant contrast is a handgun in a given character’s hand; the camera is always emphasizing guns as they are the key to money, power, and the root of all evil in the film.
Gun violence is the focal point of the film because every character desires power (probably even more so than money), and the only way they know how to attain it is to ruthlessly kill. The main “hood” in the film is Li’l Ze, who has been terrorizing since he was a little kid to get his way in terms of drug territory and also in terms of his demeanor. Almost every character (to an extent) is a terrorist because even the “good” guys end up using murder as an excuse to avenge their loved ones’ deaths.
Contrary to the other characters, Rocket’s weapon of choice is not a gun, but a camera. An aspiring photojournalist, Rocket captures images of Li’l Ze’s terrorism firsthand, causing some scenes to appear in fast-stock as they mimic Rocket’s photo-taking. Rendering scenes to look raw and documentary-like reminds us that this film is based on real events, illustrating human beings’ susceptibility to war (the Vietnam War was happening simultaneously during the film’s time period).
While the gangsters in Rio were gun-happy, the hippie movement was burgeoning in America during this time. Some aspects of this peace movement were present in the film as gangster-gone-good Benny says, “We’re really hippies at heart, aren’t we?” However, City of God examines how power and peace cannot coexist. With constant low-angle shots of power-hungry gangsters and slow-motion scenes of murder, the film is a warning of human nature’s inclination to power and just how much power can destroy peace and, with time, civilization itself.
Sam Gennett is the current Managing Editor at Jet Fuel Review. She is a third-year student at Lewis University with a major in creative and professional writing. Although nothing can surpass her love for literature, film is a close second. After watching Kevin Smith’s Clerks in high school, she began to see film as more than entertainment, but an art form that is closely tied to literature in so many ways. She’s open to watching any kind of film, but her all-time favorite thing to watch is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.