A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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.