City of God (Meirelles 2002) was an eye opening film about the life of the people living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro. It depicts the gruesome details of growing up in a slum and the choices youths must make in order to survive their reality. In an article by Joanne Laurier called “Sincere. but avoiding difficult questions”, Laurier attacks director Fernando Meirelles on his artistic choices when creating his film City of God (Meirelles 2002).
However, Laurier completely misses what Meirelles brought to the film and the impact it had on its audience. In her article, Laurier states that the film treats its characters with too much detachment and over emphasizes the brutality which causes no sympathy for the victims in the film, when in reality the complete opposite is true (Laurier, Joanne). Throughout the entirety of the film, we are showed aspects of each character’s life which allow us to connect to them on a deeper level.
For instance, we see that, although he is a part of the Tender Trio, Goose is dedicated to helping his family; he gives the money he gets from a robbery to his brother and he tells his brother it is important for him to stay out of gang life (Meirelles 2002). When Goose tries to run away and is shot by Li’l Dice (later known as Li’l Ze), you can’t help but to feel a deep sadness. However, this fact is most apparent with City of God’s (Meirelles 2002) character Benny.
While we don’t see too much from him in the earliest arch of the movie when he is young, Benny becomes an incredibly popular person in the favela. We watch as Benny goes from Li’l Ze’s right hand man to a more open person who attempts to connect with all people of the favela. There is not a group of people who did not love and support him, which can be seen after he finally decides to leave the gang life at his going away party (Meirelles 2002). When Benny got shot, the only things I felt were sadness and betrayal at the fact that he wasn’t able to get.
Not only did the audience feel the pain of his death, it took such a toll on the favela community that everything began to fall apart (Meirelles 2002). I don’t think there was a single character in the movie that I didn’t feel sympathy for, there were even some small parts of the film that I felt sympathy for the antagonist, Li’l Ze, which is a hard task to accomplish after watching the things he had done. As for Laurier’s claim that Meirelles over emphasized brutality, I just simply cannot agree (Laurier, Joanne).
While there was brutal violence in the movie, which is understandable based on the topic of the film, we really don’t see much of the violence that takes place. There are many circumstances when we know violence is occurring but don’t actually get to see it take place which makes it hard for me to accept it being overly brutal. For example, while we know that one of the men in the film beats his wife with a shovel and proceeds to bury her afterwards, we don’t actually see the act of him beating her to death (Meirelles 2002).
This is also the fact when the movie does a flashback to Li’l Ze’s first time killing someone. The audience sees as he points the gun at his victims, but we never actually see the victims getting shot with the bullet as we would in other films (Meirelles 2002). The fact of the matter is, City of God (Meirelles 2002) is not a gorily, over brutal film. The film shows what needs to be shown, the hints or beginning of the brutal acts, but completely avoids showing the actual brutality of what was happening.
If anything, Meirelles skillfully avoided brutality at any chance he could while retaining the obvious horrors that were existent in the favelas. In her article, Laurier also complains that Meirelles completely avoids the fact that political turmoil was existent during the entirety of the film timeline and thus takes away from his intention of bringing to light some of the things happening in the favelas (Laurier, Joanne). While it is true that Meirelles doesn’t quite mention the politics going on during the timeline, the film is not completely without it nor does this fact take away from he horrors that he presented in the film.
The City of God (Meirelles 2002) mentions the fact that the poor were sent to these favelas so they were kept out of the growing city. The film also depicts how corrupt the government can be within the favelas. It shows that not only were the people of the city corrupted by drugs and money, the police were just as corrupt. After getting arrested, the audience sees Li’l Ze being released by the police with no consequences from law enforcement while Carrot is taken to jail (Meirelles 2002).
We, as the film’s audience, can see that the government is not in working order just by the fact that such a large population can be run by drugs and gangs without any interference from the police. While Laurier brought up some good points about the way Meirelles created his film, I by no means agree that Meirelles did the favelas an injustice. I think that Meirelles did an excellent job showing viewers that this is the life of people who live in the favelas and that they have to make certain decisions in order to survive. It showed that while they are horrible, people, like the main character, can make it out and try to make a difference.