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City of God

June 16, 2012

There’s a certain affect that films can have on society. Jaws made moviegoers fear going into the ocean, The Exorcist gave many viewers sleepless nights and a prolonged fear of demons, while Super Size Me was enough to get viewers temporarily outraged at fast food restaurants and cause McDonald’s to remove the “super size” option from their menu. City of God has not only introduced the world to the never before seen slums of Rio de Janeiro, but also placed a crippling fear of entering a favela or visiting Brazil into my core.

After initially seeing City of God in high school, the once beautiful allure of Rio de Janiero melted away as a new fear replaced it. Instead of seeing images of grassy mountains and bronzed, sun kissed men or the enlarged concrete carved Jesus, images of dirty children in ragged clothes toting glock 45s in their hands is what I now see when I think of Brazil.

Fernando Meirelles’ beautiful tale of an escalating drug war in the streets of Rio de Janeiro is an engaging and chilling portrayal of a world beyond Middle American comprehension. Through the eyes of Rocket, a young want to be photographer, City if God explores a drug war over two decades in the making within the poverty stricken borough Cicadas de Deus in Rio. Through meticulous detail viewers follow the rise of a group of gangsters in the 1970s, including the cities most brutal hood, Lil Ze, and how they changed the city and shaped its future through crime and debauchery.

Don’t get me wrong. When I think of Brazil I can still imagine beautiful sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and sunny skies— but that thought comes after I think of streets littered with trash, deadly adolescents, high fluorescent lighting, and bleak surroundings, thanks to Meirelles’ creative means of capturing images in the most beautifully flattering ways, despite its ominous atmosphere and dreary settings.

City of God’s narrative is also an impressively innovative way of telling a story. Scenes happen in a vividly quick pace that showcase the capabilities of film as a medium. Scenes take place multiple times from various different angles giving viewers a more well rounded insight and immersion into the story taking place. In an infamous sequence detailing the history of a drug lord’s apartment, the lives and departure of three previous tenets is quickly captured through one stationary camera, careful blocking, and fading edits. The sequence takes place after viewers are introduced in the present to a new character, Blackie, whose introduction in itself is continuously played out several different times from various angles throughout the film as the story jumps through time in order to reveal vital information about different characters in the room. City of God leaves no major character undeveloped, making viewers feel some form of empathy or sadness for certain character’s fate despite their sins.

I have long thought of City of God as a perfect film and despite its occasional flaws in editing, I still stand by that notion. I’ve watched it dozens of times and am still blow away by its beauty and its ability to engage me by being so intricately elaborate. A friend’s Facebook status recently asked if you only had to live with one medium, books or movies, which would it be. A slew of comments responded with books leaving me the sole “movie” answer. I debated my answer for a while until I rewatched City of God the next night. It reminded me that film can do things books can’t. Sure when reading a book your imagination can be leaps and bounds better than what a film can show, but movies can visually stun and tell a story in ways a book just can’t without losing or confusing the reader. A great film can engage and install unforgettable images in one’s head and makes the world around us more believable because there’s an image associated with it, expanding ones worldview and beliefs. So yeah, if I had to choose between movies or books, give me a match and I’ll burn down a library to prove my love of cinema!

SEE IT. And appreciate cinema more than you ever have.

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