City of God in Several Voices Brazilian Social Cinema by ssh14851


									          City of God in Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action
                   Edited with an Introduction by Else R P Vieira
The national and international box-office hit City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles, has pushed the
frontiers of the world’and of Brazilian film-making and has triggered a debate on the achievement of the
commercial film in advancing a social cause.

In Brazil, its social action started when it premièred in 2002, during the presidential campaigns. It exposed a
social wound in Brazilian society: the explosive, perverse process whereby drugs and guns have empowered
a desiring mass of the destitute and have been forced upon children subjected to the interests of the dealers.
The camera, always shooting the gangsters from low angles, suggests the children’perception of them as

The film demanded an immediate political response. The voices of public figures, such as the then
presidential candidate, Lula da Silva, the leader of the Cidade de Deus slum, and the writer of the book that
gave rise to the film, engaged in heated polemics. The far from consensual views of critics analysed the
success of the film’language in advancing the social agenda of poverty, exclusion, violence, and racism.
Three main devices of defamiliarisation ─a floating voice unattached to a body on an imageless black
screen; the narrator photographing the audience; and a feathered first protagonist with imploring eyes ─
invited three million Brazilians to develop a more critical stance on a situation that they have always looked
at but not quite seen. What the Brazilian ear could not or did not want to hear was rendered eloquent by the
sounds and images of this remarkable technical production which stung their social conscience and struck a
blow at the pillar of Brazil’imaginary and self-identity: cordiality.

“ Director in Search of One Hundred Black Actors” a title of a chapter in this book that, like the film on
 A                                                    is
which it focuses, again interrogates Brazil’imaginary of a racial democracy. The actors’   workshops for the
preparation of a black cast from Rio´s favelas created areas of permeability across the polarised class-race
system of Brazil and enabled the politicisation of the voice and the look of the “
                                                                                 filmless”ones. The original
cast’post-City of God engagement with film production, in turn, produced social and political action through
projects which offer disadvantaged communities the empowering experience of film. Former actors of City of
God became national stars in the subsequent series, City of Men, decisively contributing to breaking the
monopoly of rich white characters on Brazilian television.

This volume on City of God poses many questions. How
successful has the film been in partially using a universally
recognisable film language to take this national reality across
frontiers? Does the use of some of the conventions of an
international film language clash with the demands of the
audio-visual within Brazil? What are the implications of the
internationalisation of Brazilian film for the professionalisation
of the director and his teamwork strategy? Individual chapters
follow the malandro (the Brazilian trickster) across national
frontiers, interrogate British critics for framing the film within the
gangster genre and leaving out its strong social dimension, thus
giving an audience already unwilling to look at the world’social
problems a further excuse to misunderstand the country and fall
into the paternalistic trap of the First World’image of violence.

Among the twenty one chapters of this first book on City of God in English are studies on the evolution of the
drug traffic in Rio, on the representation of the favela in Brazilian cinema from 1950 to 2000, and on the
marked role of post-2000 Brazilian films in presenting humanising alternatives to violence.
Extracts from the book                                                   “ is when we realise that the chicken caught in the
                                                                         crossfire at the beginning of City of God is not only a chicken.
                                                                         It is the reflection of so many Brazilians trapped in an unjust
“Dead on the ground, the cunning, violent lord of life and death         country.”   (Walter Salles Jr)
is a gap-toothed youngster, under-nourished and illiterate,              “More than three million Brazilians all over the country saw this
often barefoot and in shorts, invariably dark-skinned in colour:         film in mesmerised terror. It has already prompted changes in
the point on which all injustices of Brazilian society converge.”        political conduct, because it set off a crucial process of
(Roberto Schwarz)                                                        awareness –     within and beyond the misery belt –that no one
                                                                         can stop now.”     (Arnaldo Jabor)
“ [City of God] gives powerful expression to the feelings of
class and racial disenfranchisement that create a subject                 “ concern for [the cinematographer] Charlone on City of
under siege in a society swamped by images of glamour and                God was how to light the performers, most of whom are black.
sex appeal and a rhetoric … that gives elegant new forms to              After making the City of God documentary, Charlone decided
old associations of aggressive virility, the accumulation of             to simply let light reflect off of their skin rather than lighting
goods and power.”   (Ismail Xavier)                                      them directly... Later, Charlone happened to see a portrait of a
                                                                         black woman painted by Brazilian artist Di Cavalcanti….Sixty
“wanted the audience to look at Li’ and actually see the
 I                                      l Zé                             years earlier, Di Cavalcanti had captured exactly what I was
real Li’ and not an actor playing a role. The idea was to …
       l Zé,                                                                                    s
                                                                         seeing. The woman’ skin was not all those colours, but it was
eliminate the filter, to let the spectator have a direct                 a reflection of the colours that were around her. We went after
relationship with the character. All this, I thought, would bring        that same thing throughout City of God.”        (Jean Oppenheimer)
out the truth I wanted to have in the film. Middle-class actors
would not know how to interpret those characters. Besides,               “Whilst the categorisation of City of God as a gangster film
there were no young black or mulatto actors in Brazil. I would           may have enabled it to be recognised by a non-Brazilian
have to find the cast in the favelas of Rio. That would be the           audience … it has made the film into an international
greatest challenge of the project.”   (Fernando Meirelles,               commodity, and this has led to the neglect of some of its …
Director)                                                                national relevance, its social agenda, and its link to the
                                                                         historically politicised Brazilian cinematic tradition.”(Miranda
“ absence of the State –in terms of schools, leisure, and
 The                                                                     Shaw)
employment –   can transform housing estates like Cidade de
Deus into a site of banishment, places where poor people are
concentrated in order that they do not to disturb the peace of
the other section of the country that is socially included.”(Lula
da Silva, President of Brazil)

“ commitment as a writer was to look for the imaginary of
those who were socially segregated. And, for the sake of
verisimilitude, it was to call attention to the appalling inequities
of income distribution in Brazil, to spur the creation of forums
about racism, to reprove the abandonment of aged people, to
rebuke the government’continuous disregard of children,
pervasive violence, police arbitrariness and corruption, and to
challenge the lack of public, social, and cultural policies.”
(Paulo Lins, author of the novel that gave rise to City of God)
                                                                         “ of God draws attention to the ideology of whitening as a road to
“These armed children, who were born to kill and die young,              virtue through the ‘
                                                                                            good bandit’ Bené … whose decision to leave the life
are the essence of Brazil’contemporary history, and probably
                         s                                               of drugs and arms is signalled by his dyed blonde hair. White ´outside´
                                                                         and wearing a fashionable shirt, he contructs the image of whiteness
that of many other countries.”(Lúcia Nagib)                              and glamour prioritised by society. “(Else Vieira)

“ of God is a symptom-film of the reiteration of a sinister
social prognosis: the expendable show of the poor killing each              Note on the editor
other.” (Ivana Bentes)
                                                                            Else R P Vieira is a Reader in Brazilian and
“These are people who lack self-esteem, who lack health, and                Comparative Latin American Studies, at Queen
who lack peace. They are people who have been cut off from                  Mary, University of London; a former Visiting
all emancipation mechanisms; they are people who have                       Professor at the Centre for Brazilian Studies,
never been regarded as people.” V Bill, rapper and favela
leader)                                                                     University of Oxford (1999) and a Senior
                                                                            Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham
“Behind the story there is a History of violence and a cruel                (2001-02); she had a previous career in
Brazilian capitalism; behind the story there lie plenty of smaller          Comparative Literature at the Federal University
stories”(Luiz Eduardo Soares)
        .                                                                   of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Among her major
                                                                            projects, she is the Director of Research and
                                                                            Editor of the website The Sights and Images of
                                                                            Dispossession: The Fight for the Land and the
                                                                            Emerging Culture of the MST
                                                                            ( Her present
                                                                            AHRC-funded project involves a comparative
                                                                            study of documentaries in Brazil and Argentina.

                                                                         Publication date: September 2005
                                                                         ISBN: 1 905510 00 4
                                                                         Price: £15.99 (including postage and packing
“ an image, the beautiful Rio is merely a hazy silhouette on the
                                                                         to any part of the world when ordered from our
horizon in the film. The sea is only attainable for Rocket, the social   website; credit/debit card payments only). Just
climber who has to get close to the ‘ groovies’, that is, the white      go to
inhabitants of City of God.”(Lúcia Nagib)

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