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The City of God (Cidade de Deus) Mereilles, F. 2002

When critiquing a film it is crucial to analyse the central theme to assess the message it aims to portray. In the case of the Fernando Mereilles' City of God, set in the Cidade de Deus area of Brazil, the film asks the central question: 'Does crime pay?' As the film focuses on two young men from the slums of Rio de Janeiro, one (Li'l Ze) turns to crime at an early age, seeing it as an opportunity to be respected. In contrast Rocket neither wants to sell drugs or kill people. Rocket is both frail and awkward and wants nothing but to be a photographer. Crucially, it is when Rocket finally gets a camera that his path crosses Ze's and ultimately it is he who gives Rocket an opportunity to make something of himself. Based on a true story, it could then be argued that a parallel theme within the piece is about following a dream and how lives can change at the slightest turn within somewhere like a favela. The City of God is one of the most dangerous places in the world. This film asks if one man turns to crime, and strikes fear into those who meet him, is he successful. Or is it the man who turns away from crime out of fear to realize his dream that is the true success?

In terms of story, the City of God has a linear plot telling the story of the favela through three segments divided into the 1960s, 70s and 80s in the manner of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Narrated by Rocket, the film jumps telling the same story in a number of different ways (for example the story of the apartment) but in all the film follows a clear path to tell the story of the characters. The piece is also book-ended by one event, a race to catch a chicken. When the chicken escapes in the favela it runs past Li'l Ze catching his attention. Ze immediately joins the race for the chicken, demanding that his gang of runts (children aged five to ten) help him catch it. As the gang gets closer to the chicken, a stand-off is also ensuing with the police. It is here Rocket also enters the picture, sauntering into the favela with his camera. As the scene unfolds, Rocket is placed in the middle of the group, next to the chicken. The police are behind him, armed, and Ze and his gang are in front of him, also armed. It is at this point the camera pans around from Rocket's point of view to survey the whole scene, outlining the message of the film. Rocket is trapped between two worlds, the law-abiding police and the lawless world of the favela he comes from. The fact this crucial scene book-ends the film also portrays a message to the viewer that this is life in the slums: a life that will continue to turn in circles of crime and violence if nothing is done.

It is also worth noting that in terms of the characters within the piece, only one actor had had previous experience (Matheus Nachtergaele, who played Carrot) with many picked from surrounding favelas. This tactic was the biggest success with Leandro Firmino, who played Ze. From Cidade de Deus itself, Leandro was more than aware of real people who ruled the slums with a reign of fear. But it should be noted that on the films release, this story did become something of a marketing tool, and it could be argued the film was given an added element of realism because the audience were alerted to the fact that these were not just actors, but real people who had experienced the favelas first hand.

In conclusion, it could be argued that although it advertised itself as a slice of realism, City of God is realism with a Tarantino edge. It portrays the favelas as violent as opposed to poverty-stricken, and although the tone of the film helps to build an atmosphere, it does not lend any realism to the piece. Although many of the actors were in fact real people from the slums, this was used as more of a marketing tool for the film than anything else. As a whole, despite the fact the film does portray a real story; it is shot with a "Hollywood" edge, which it could be argued was a bid to reach its target audience. After all, the people portrayed within the film are unlikely to visit a cinema to watch it, so in terms of market the film must be aimed at the kind of young audience that is drawn to such violent films. Indeed, the jump-cuts, story labeling and colorful scenes within the film appear to drown out the violence and detract from the fact that the City is one of the world's most dangerous places to live.

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