Whenever there is a major feature film interpretation of a painfully topical issue, the audience takes the on-coming film with a grain of salt, which is quite understandable – there is practically no way in which the movie director can handle the complex issue; as a matter of fact, a movie adaptation is often not about how good the directors’ interpretation is, but how much the movie twists the original idea.
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However, much to the audience’s surprise, The City of God turned out not as much palatable as the source material, i.e., the numerous criminal reports on the Rio de Janeiro suburbs, but also quite unique and different from the original in its own way. With the help of elaborate planning and the use of various technical approaches, as well as the casting choices and other essential elements that make a bulk of a good movie, The City of God manages to convey a number of messages concerning essential social issues in the Latin countries, as well as stet the existing problems within a typical Latin society.
The first and the foremost planning element to speak about are the actors. The cast defines the movie, shaping it and giving it additional shades. In the given case, the cast was truly brilliant. Taking into account that the movie was shot as a crime drama, it was crucial to pick the cast who would not overact yet add drama to the movie, and Alexandre Rodriguez handled this task perfectly well.
He obviously knows what to say and when to: “The sun is for everyone, the beach is for those who deserve it” (The City of God), yet he does not have the answer to every question, which makes him a believable character. The rest of the cast leaves rather vague impression, yet there is also nothing terrible about their performance.
Like any crime movie, this one is packed with all sorts of stunts and smooth movements. However, the tricks in The City of God concern not the artists, but the movie itself, or, to be more exact, the way in which different eras are switched. The transition between the epochs is rather smooth, which is achieved with the help of rather unusual means.
For instance, I one of the transitions, the gap between the two epochs is marked near a car passing by (The City of God). In addition, it is still questionable whether the level of the stunt performers matches the existing standards. The given edits make one think of the gaps between different social groups, which are as hard to cross as the time boundaries.
Speaking of the way in which the movie floats between two time periods, the visuals of the two worlds are quite stunning, too. Meirelles managed to capture the striking reality of both eras in a bottle. The Rio de Janeiro suburbs are your typical Rio de Janeiro suburbs, the way an average stranger would think of them, yet the stylization of the background does not stretch to the point where an average Rio de Janeiro dweller will consider it offensive.
In regard to the settings, the color cast of the movie is to be mentioned as well. It is rather peculiar that the color balance is shifted in the movie in such a way so that every single detail in it looks extremely sharp. The given shift is especially obvious in the scene where one of the kids during the conversation asks another one, “Shall I shoot you in the hand or in the foot?” (The City of God).
Adding much to the atmosphere in general, the sharpness of the colors allows to stress the tension within the society and the anger that has been brewing there for the last few decades.
The sound effects and the sounds in the background are not to be forgotten, either. It is essential that the movie uses the traditional Latin American music for the background in most of the scenes; adding the unforgettable genuine effect, it helps create the atmosphere and allows to plunge into the Latin world completely.
Finally, the story comes as the most important element of the movie planning. Helping to reveal even more ideas which the director and the author of the book wanted to convey, the plot must be on par with the visuals, i.e., the most important detail of the entire movie. It is quite impressive that the reference to the book by St. Augustine of Hippo is there in the movie, which makes the latter all the stronger.
On the other hand, the comparison of the modern movie about the gangs of Rio de Janeiro to the book written centuries ago with a completely different idea in mind and for completely different purposes might seem inappropriate, there is still a common thread in the two.
Both convey the idea of justice as it should be. The only difference is that Augustine’s work conveys the message of ideal state showing what the perfect order must look like (St. Augustine), while The City of God, the movie states its moral grounds by showing the audience the lowest of the low. Hence, the idea of what the City of God must not be, is shaped. Indeed, the negative imagery can be as impressive as the positive one; sometimes, the effect of the former can be even stronger, since it does not possess the loathsome taste of moralizing.
Moreover, when referring to Augustine’s work, it is necessary to keep in mind that Meirelles did not go with taking all the ideas from the book by Augustine – on the contrary, Meirelles created a modern story only slightly seasoned with the moral concerns which have been voiced in St. Augustine’s book. Hence, Meirelles managed to locate the movie in the present-day reality and add a couple of modern features to it, keeping the key characteristics of the genre intact.
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Hence, it is obvious that the specifics of the movie planning, especially the ones concerning the visual elements, contribute to the effect that the movie makes considerably. With the help of a careful, well-developed planning, the movie conveys such social issues as the reasons for high criminal rates in Rio de Janeiro, as well as explains the specifics of the city development, touching upon its history.
Therefore, the background for a number of current social issues which are extremely topical for the present-day Brazil is being set as the plot of the movie unwraps. Unmasking the social and political flaws of the existing system, the movie sets a number of moral dilemmas for the audience, leaving the latter to guess whether the leading characters have chosen the right track.
The City of God. Ex. Prod. Fernando Meirelles. New York City, NY: Miramax Films. 2003. DVD.
St. Augustine. The City of God. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1871. Print.