A group of teenagers in the slums of Rio De Janeiro present a boy around 10 years of age with a choice: he must kill one of two innocent prepubescent boys sobbing against a crumbling brick wall. Both boys have been shot in the foot. They are both scared. He is handed a gun and pauses, thinking through his options. Emma O’Neill discusses what comes next.
At this point in City of God – a four-time Oscar nominated Brazilian film released in 2002 – one would expect sweeping minor chords of an uplifting score to kick in. Music to reassure us that the boy is about to throw away the gun and launch into a heart-rending speech that stabs regret and a desire for redemption deep into the souls of those demanding such debauchery and injustice. But this is not Hollywood. Instead, you get silence. Followed by a gunshot and the collapse of a small prepubescent male body. This is life in the Brazil’s favelas – the poor, self-governing, often drug lord ruled areas of the nation often Photoshopped out of the picture perfect postcard image of Rio De Janeiro.
I watched City of God at the LPAC as part of Cinema Paradiso, an ongoing short season of important world films that have provided a response to burning social issues. The response made by City of God is not one that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but it is cinema at its best. The film follows the lives of two boys growing up in the favelas; one becomes a photographer, the other a violent drug lord. And while many films in this vein often question how characters can turn bad, the director Fernando Meirelles has captured the effortless violence within the toxic walls of the favelas so well you can taste it, and this taste makes you flip such questioning. You start to wonder how anyone from this place could end up good.
Despite such mastery, City of God was not initially recognised by Hollywood as ‘award-winning’. As pointed out by the University of Lincoln’s Professor Sarah Barrow who introduced the film, when City of God was first released it was presumed by the Committee to be just another violent movie from Latin America. One year later, after the film had been released to such enormous worldwide acclaim, it was nominated for four Academy Awards – none of which was in the foreign film category.
The ability of this film to be recognised by Hollywood and indie film lovers alike, I believe, is because City of God reminds us of how vital our environment – be that a home, a nation, or a hemisphere – can be in determining if we are good or bad. It reminds us to stop patting ourselves on the back for being good citizens and reminds us to simply be thankful that our choices at ten involved football teams and soft drink brands.
Cinema Paradiso is being presented by Professor Brian Winston and Dr Sarah Barrow of the Lincoln School of Media, University of Lincoln. The next film in the series is Missing (Costa-Gavras, 1981, US) on Saturday March 10. All films start at 7pm in the LPAC and tickets are £5.
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