Sunday, July 25, 2004

Fernando Meirelle's City of God (or rather, Cidade de Dues, as my friend calls it - its so much more glamorous!) is filled with astonishing visual tricks.  The narrative is full of little digressions and detours yet the weave is astonishing.  The movie made the adrenaline literally sing in my veins, I got up around the room, I paced, I paused the movie when I wanted to savor a moment. It's like a well made MTV-video - the shot-composition is brilliant, the cuts and the fades are just right and the music - the music! - is one throbbing rave.  The movie pulses like a heart - a live heart. 

Yet for all its virtuoso techniques - and it is brilliant film, really! - the movie left me uneasy.  Now a film, that, for most parts is full of gun-toting kids, some of whom are barely five or six, would make anyone uneasy.  But its a little more complicated than that.  The movie made me uneasy because it wasn't uneasy enough about what was going on.  It's all there - the City of God was created to keep the poor away from the posh confines of Rio, the law is absent, only the fittest survive and children get inducted rather early into the cult of violence - but the movie uses all these elements as the raw materials in it's jazzy syntax to craft, what is ultimately, an action film.   There is no moral center in the city of God. 

Our protogonist is a photographer, a little like the director of the film himself.  Yet, his photography, and his camera, to him, are little more than instruments of escape - of escape from the City of God itself.  He - and consequently, the movie and the viewer - learn nothing from what is happening around them.  The startling thing about the movie is that the rites-of-passage it promises at the beginning never really happens, instead our hero remains stuck in his limbo - he may appear to have climbed out of it but he's stuck nevertheless. 

I hate to sound like a puritan nag here.  I've never felt that movies needed a moral to be good - particularly if the moral was one of those old out-dated cringe-worth cliches that we often pass off as morals.  The exhilirating movies of Quentin Tarrantino, for example rarely offer any morals, as such.  Critics of Tarrantino have criticized the nihilism of Kill Bill, with it's fetishistic violence.  (Interestingly the same critics would never say the same of the sadomasochistic violence in The Passion of the Christ).  But Tarrantino's movies take place in their own parallel world and in that specific world - he imbues his films with feeling and even, may I say it, with honor.  City of God, on the other hand, uses it's realism in a way that borders on the exploitative - it's been adapted from a book which took the author 8 years to write and which is based on his own experiences in the City of God. 

It's a great movie - just not that great!

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