A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, August 20, 2016

City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)

City of God is an exceptionally involving docudrama that employs non-professional actors to stunning effect. The only experienced professional in the cast was Matheus Nachtergaele, who played the drug dealer known as "Carrot." The rest were mostly recruited from the streets and slums of Rio, and put through several months of training, largely under the supervision of Lund, who also worked with the cast during filming and is billed as "co-director." Lund had become familiar with Rio's slum-dwellers through her work on music videos and documentary films. The shape of the film, including its flashback structure and use of quick cutting and hand-held camera, is largely that of Meirelles, whose most recent work includes coverage of the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio. And that reliance on flashy camerawork and narrative tricks is, I think, the greatest flaw of City of God. It detracts from some of our involvement in the lives of its characters, turning away from documentary-like reality into sheer "movie-making." Nevertheless, the film successfully immerses us in the violent lives of the people of the favelas. It was a significant critical and even commercial hit, earning four Oscar nominations, a rare feat for a foreign-language film. It wasn't submitted by Brazil for the foreign-language Oscar, but instead was nominated for best director, best adapted screenplay (Bráulio Mantovani from the novel by Paulo Lins), cinematography (César Charlone), and film editing (Daniel Rezende). Some controversy arose when only Meirelles was cited in the directing nomination, but the Academy has strict eligibility rules, and Lund's credit of "co-director" was judged to be a disqualifier. Given my reservations about Meirelles's use of the camera, I think maybe Lund deserved the nomination more than he did.

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