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  • Daniel Rae

City of God Review


"City of God", Globo Films, 02 Filmes, 2002


The film's label as "the Brazilian Goodfellas" is an interesting one. Whilst it's 2000s-era stylishness that informs its vapid treatment takes away from the more grounded and timeless quality of Scorsese's classic, I think its screenplay uses the mould of not only the genre of its western comparison, but also the fabric of other coming-of-age genres in a natural and free flowing way that introduces am original flair to familiar narrative beats.

The contemporary Danny-Boyle/Baz-Luhrmann-esq approach to world-building here grounds a similarly hyper-realist-tinged vulnerability to great effect, stitching together the style's unfiltered sense claustrophobia with the urgency of the relentless genre tropes that creates a dynamic story that demands the audiences attention. Whilst this far-from-subtle approach occasionally undercuts the dynamic feeling of the pacing with its contrived plot-points, the immersion is not lost as it proves to understand the poignantly human aspects of the life of drugs and exploitation through the attention to detail with the anthology-like narrative structure and how the characters within them are treated. Whilst perhaps acknowledging the injustices of the class system through how the characters' stories are reigned in through the voice-over of Rodrigues' good-natured 'Rocket', Lund and Meirelles remain laser-focussed on the wider social structures of childhood and loyalty that shapes the power hierarchy of the "City of Gold", a place that completely swallows up both its inhabitants and the audience through a surprisingly striking and varied colour palette. The different lenses into slum life that the characters themselves bring and their usage in steering the narrative tangents, whilst not attempting to go beyond the familiar binaries of motivations (whether thirsty for power, looking to escape or wanting to simply get by), the punctual writing that accompanies them, although occasionally dipping into unintentionally overly-dramatic territory that falls outside of its stylised-realism, effectively manages to weave in refreshingly blunt character arcs that remains harnessed to their institutionalised way of living. Moreover, rather than using this approach to mould a helplessly glum aesthetic that indulges on the cycle of conflict which upholds the workings of the 'hoods', this instead opens the room for intimate threads and subplots that keeps the attention on the individuality of each character's stories, often embedding a self-aware tone with their Todorovian quest-like progression and the haunting theme of time that ties them all together. This undercurrent of wit not only ties back into the lingering"true story" feeling that is eventually revealed, but is also used to encourage the audience to gauge emotionally beyond the imagery of childhood vulnerability that is carried by the shifts in temporal frequency. The dynamic tonal shifts between the separate stories highlights, instead, the need to examine unique power struggles that shapes the whole image of poverty, as well as the desperation of self-worth that propels evil forward.

However, whilst I can appreciate the amicability of threading together the tropes of genres beyond the realm of violence in order to build upon the natural comradery of its characters that the diegesis sits on, this occasionally tangles together the worlds of character-driven and plot-driven arcs that the open-ended sense of linearity invites. Whilst this may highlight the vapid nature of control that the city may appear grant powerful, this does effect the overall buoyancy of the pacing that the flexibility of the editing shoots for, which can be seen through the exhausting use of montages that don't always gel with the postmodernist-esq decision to use multiple narrative structures interchangeably. Also, the lack of subtlety that comes with this overtly stylistic approach does occasionally brush against humanistcally sympathetic lens that we see these characters develop through, often feeling like vehicles for particular ideologies rather than feeling like the people they are meant to be based off from.

Overall, I recognise the acclaimed fundamental emotional and topical progression pass the film's aforementioned label, which can be seen through the many ways in how the lingering presence of conflict, power and poverty poetically intertwine without straying away towards more sensationalist directions.


4/5 Stars



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