Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s 2002 film, City of God, is a vortex that swallows the audience into its cyclic narrative that emphasizes the dangers of toxic masculinity and consequences of the notion “being a man.” As observed in the film, a twisted perspective of manhood can be a bullet that passes through one generation to the next, destined to extinguish them all.
Meirelles and Lund’s film is a stunning execution of a labyrinth-like storyline in which the audience delves into the lives of multiple characters. Then, through cinematic moves such as foreshadowing and flashbacks, seamlessly intertwines these plots that become a metaphorical domino effect. As the film progresses, and gradually strips down the plot, we observe how the actions of one character cause a steady disruption in the lives of everyone else. From the jarring, handheld camera scenes, to the drastic shifts in color gradients from deep, saturated blues, to honeyed yellows, the audience experiences the chaotic and disruptive life of the film’s gang members. Similarly, to the characters in the story, the audience is overtaken by this whirlpool narrative, trapped in “the slum [that had] been a purgatory.” But, “now it’s hell.”
Below is a notable perspective on the 2002 film City of God, written by Lewis University student Sarah Simar. Spoilers ahead.
Guns, gangs, crime, drugs, power, wealth, survival — these are the most obvious themes in City of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002), directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. There is no way out, no safe place to hide in the City of God. If you are not in a gang, you are forced into one at a very young age.
One of the main characters and narrator of the story, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), dreams of being a photographer and getting out of this violent world. The other main character, Ze Pequeno (Leandro Firmino), wants to rule the city from a young age with his partner Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), and accomplishes just that through a series of malicious acts. Rocket and Ze are so radically different, but their paths cross more than once throughout the movie. These moments reiterate the theme that there is no way out, even for Rocket, who wants nothing to do with any gang.
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.
Below are two student’s perspectives on the 2002 film City of God.
Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 film, City of God, is a work of art that is full of realistic depictions of the violence and drama associated with the impoverished favelas in Cidade de Deus during the 1970s. By utilizing the viewpoint of a young photographer (known as “Rocket”), this film immerses the audience within a story that needed to be told.
Based on a true story, Rocket experiences how the early influence of “Robin Hood-like” gangsters caused the growth of dark lawlessness and corruption within this Brazilian city. Although his peers and older brother, Goose, surrender to criminal activity in order to survive, Rocket struggles to avoid these temptations of misdeed. It is the sociopath, Li’l Zé, who leads the mayhem of murder and crime that takes place within the neighborhood. This film utilizes a wide variety of unique cinematographic techniques in order to convey the truth behind the activities of these gangsters.
Meirelles’ use of fast editing within the film helps to display the true nature of Rocket’s environment. From shot to shot, events happen in a fast-paced manner. Cutting to different depictions of violence within a small amount of time causes the audience to fully experience the chaotic environment. Life is hectic and stressful within these slums. Meirelles utilizes classical cutting in order to help the audience to understand this different way of living. In addition, music in this film acts in a similar manner. The fast rhythm suits the rapid depictions of action within the slums. The choice of music also acts to paint a picture of the Brazilian culture while providing the film with surge of energy to keep the audience on their feet.