“City of God” (2002) review

6 10 2009

City of God

City of God is one of those films that has been referred to in many of my classes and conversations, and has been recommended to me by countless people (including Netflix, for over a year). Tonight I finally got a chance to watch it. These ideas have probably been tossed around by many people, so if this is all old news to you, I apologize in advance.

**Spoiler Warning**

From all I’d heard about it, I knew what I was in for: violent, terrifying realism. Yes, it was violent, and yes, parts were quite scary — all in a (relatively) realistic way. But I didn’t find it as mind-blowing as I’d been lead to expect. The characters were amazingly crafted, and the story unfolded in a very interesting way; the cinematography was exquisite; and the events were very powerful — but in an entirely different way than I had anticipated.

The violence was treated differently than many (Hollywood) films, but while being very powerful, it still seemed incredibly stylized — more so than I had expected. This stylization was effective (particularly in the dance sequence when Benny is shot), but for some reason I thought it would be more somber and “realistic.” However, that leads to the question, what is a “realistic” film? Throughout film history, realism has had many different forms, and City of God tries for it in a different manner. A large part of City of God’s power was through the creative editing and cinematography — it wouldn’t have created the same sort of atmosphere and character if it had been shot in, say, a Neo-realist style. While Neo-realism was great for showing post WWII Italy, this sort of material needed to be shown in a new manner; to effectively translate the issues for a contemporary audience, they had to build upon and adapt trends in current modes of representation. Namely, MTV-esque editing and camera work — the majority of sequences were built out of extremely short shots with many cuts, the camera was constantly moving and there were lots of close-ups of both faces and bodies.

The film would have had an entirely different feel if it had been filmed as a documentary — yet I feel that’s how many directors would have chosen to film it. The events were based on reality and, through creative filmmaking, they were able to tell the story in a very visceral manner. I must say I was impressed, but in a different way than I had expected. I wonder what Eisenstein would think…

I guess if I have to give it a number, I’ll give it: 8.5/10




5 responses

7 10 2009

Good review Maia. This is one of my favorite movies of all time.

You may want to put a spoiler warning in there (before the Benny thing).

18 03 2010

This thing is getting tons of views!

Just curious if you’ve heard of the term “ecstatic truth?” I think it was coined by Herzog. It’s about aiming for an emotional truth rather than a factual truth, or manipulating fact/reality to elicit a greater emotional response. Anyways your review reminds me of this just because of all the talk about realism and what if it had been filmed documentary-style. I think the stylizations are a big part of what gives it its emotional weight and had it been filmed documentary-style, though it would have been more “realistic” or factual, it would probably have been lumped into a pile of similar films and not be nearly as memorable.

20 03 2010

I am kind of shocked how popular it is. I wonder why?

I have not heard of the term, however, it is an idea that has come up before. It is definitely the stylization that made the movie so emotionally powerful.

24 03 2010

So if you Google image “City of God,” this is the 2nd image that shows up! No wonder…

28 05 2010


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