How does the visual style of City of God draw attention to social realities in Brazil?


MAY, 2016

Film Analysis
Human Rights


The following article about City of God forms part of a resource Reina-Marie Loader developed to aid students in the planning, structuring and writing of their own essays and articles.


This essay serves at the final step in the process of answering a specific essay question – namely the written piece itself. In this case, the focus is on the close analysis of the film City of God. You can also purchase the resources themselves, the details of which can be found by clicking the buttons below.

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How does the visual style of ‘City of God’ draw attention to social realities in Brazil?


by Reina-Marie Loader

Fernando Meirelles’s film City of God (2002) has been hailed as ‘not simply a film’, but a horrifically realistic depiction of the social injustice in and around Rio de Janeiro’s numerous favelas. For many Brazilians the film is a bandage wrapping a wounded country. For others it ironically represents an intolerable aesthetic, a ‘filmic tabloid’ that revels in pointless violence. According to these critics, the film does not utilise its images as the continuation of the established cinematic tradition called Cinema Novo – a tradition that is supposed to champion the intolerable, the misbegotten and the ignored through the deeply symbolic depiction of violence. The magazine O Estado de São Paulo particularly shaped negative impressions of the film by morally comparing it to American action films where ‘violence and sensorial stimuli reach the level of hallucination’ in that they tend to take ‘imperative and sovereign delight’ in ‘seeing, causing and suffering violence’ [1]. Mostly though, critics seem to agree that it is a technical achievement that has become ‘an important fact, a crucial event, a borehole in the conscience of the country’ [2] for ultimately, it prompts integrated reflection in terms of socio-political reconstruction and film-technical innovation.

‘The film raises cinema production to an unequalled standard and breaks with a certain naiveté and tradition in the Brazilian film industry. The scope of City of God creatively and uniquely intertwines the aesthetic and the artistic, the ideological and the economic, the cultural and the anthropological […] in a national and international cinematographic field’ [3].

The fact that this film uncomfortably sits between national and international cinematic fields is undeniable. On the one hand, the American marketing influence is evident from the film’s acquisition by Miramax and its consequent worldwide promotion as a cutthroat gangster film (at the time) revolutionary in its use of an MTV-like ‘pop aesthetic’ as well as a seamless combination of 35 and 16 mm film. On the other hand, it is also clear that there are certain aspects of Brazilian Cinema Novo, which Meirelles continues to subscribe to – notably the use of an aesthetic that assaults and imbricates the viewer through images of poverty and violence. Such a visual attitude can closely be associated with the aesthetic first formulated in the 1960s by Glauber Rocha in his “An Esthetic of Violence”. Intended as a critical response to Western cultural imperialism, it essentially includes ‘a new mode of expression, understanding, and representation of the phenomena connected to the sertão and the favela as sites of poverty’ [4]. Moreover, the movement’s considerations are primarily seen from the ethical perspective of how to show real suffering ‘without falling into folklore, into paternalism, or into a conformist and lachrymose humanism’ [5]. Meirelles’s view on slum life follows a similar line of argument. By means of aggressive narrative and stylistic structures, the filmmaker created a similar, yet rephrased ‘Aesthetic of Violence’ through an emphasis on new technology. Consequently, modern day slum brutality is not only shown to be an aesthetically violent reality, but it is also explained as a psychological ‘ANaesthetic’ to a deeper reaching social violence that feeds on those trapped in poverty.

In order to underpin the extent of this dialectic highlighted above, I wish to turn to a closer textual analysis of some stylistic choices. By doing so, I hope to demonstrate that despite the film’s ambiguous placement between two traditional influences (i.e. Cinema Novo and the American gangster/action genres), it succeeds as a progressive social wake-up call conceptually intended for a national audience.

From the outset Meirelles shows the evolution of the slums through history by means of a three-part storytelling structure that methodically crescendos from simple beginnings to total chaos. In the sixties, we are initially presented with the innocence of God’s favela as a place where social banditry is committed for ‘the greater good’. The story then moves on to the seventies – a psychedelic phase in which peace is mostly chemically induced:

‘Everyone is smoking marijuana, and colour suddenly floods the screen. Blue and green, colours that were avoided in the first part of the film, come on strongly in the art direction and lighting […] The 1970s sequences were shot handheld; camera movements are freer but still respect cinematographic grammar’ [6].

However, as Bernice states in the film, a hood does not stop, he merely takes a break. So, when Bené (the last good gangster) is killed at the end of the seventies, the camera loses control and moves into the final story – a dark, out-of-focus tale dominated by drug lords, gang leaders, jealousy, revenge and weapons. The camera takes on a life of its own adhering to no cinematic rule. It becomes, as I will illustrate below, a weapon itself. It captures characters, actions and objects almost by accident as it blindly shoots into the filmic space. The favela in the eighties is placed on a knife’s edge – at which point every man (and indeed every child) lives and dies for himself. By this three-part evolution through time, Meirelles presents us with an image of escalating chaos that starts with a relatively normal existence, moves into purgatory and ends up in hell. The film’s structure seems to suggest that, if we are to understand the favela of today, we need to understand its past.


A. Playing Games


During the early days of Cidade de Deus’s existence, the camera often accentuates the heroic status of the bandits through classical compositions of low angles and static shots (see figures below). According to cinematographer César Charlone the style of the sixties section thus called for wide-open lenses and controlled tripod or Steadicam shots [7]. It was important for the filmmakers to capture the city itself as a warm and mostly peaceful place where people rob out of necessity. Even Buscapé’s voice narration describes the city’s most dangerous bandits as hoodlums and amateurs, but never as fearsome gangsters. It is only when Li’l Zé enters the story as a grown man, that fear takes the place of admiration. Near the beginning of the film, Buscapé informs the viewer that, in order to understand Cidade de Deus, Shaggy’s story has to open its tale – a happy-go-lucky member of the Tender Trio with Goose and Clipper completing the triangle. As the gang’s name suggests, they are three fun loving and joking teenagers who live for playing football, falling in love and making a quick buck. They take their roles as older brothers seriously as they obviously value the importance of education despite the fact that they have none. Goose for example tells his brother to always go to school and asks for his promise never to touch a gun. Moreover, when they rob a gas truck it seems as if their main objective is to give the money away rather than buying themselves the latest wrist watch. Immediately after the robbery, the trio throws a bundle of cash in the air for some youngsters to collect for new footballs. We also see Goose hand his brother a stack of bank notes with the instructions to give it to his father. This kind of selflessness never happens again in the film as the characters develop a tremendous lust for celebrity and personal gain. The words of Bernice, one of the few female characters in the film, thus again take on a prophetic tone: ‘Hoods don’t love, they desire’. Here however, Goose still nobly insists that his philanthropy remains anonymous while Shaggy falls deeply in love with Bernice who convinces him to leave his hoodlum ways. Weapons are essentially seen as necessities, not accessories … while social games still prefer footballs to AK47s.

Simultaneously however, from the start a disturbing naiveté seeps through Meirelles’s camera as the visual imagery introduces one of the film’s major themes – the gradual pathological fusion of games and violence. Ultimately, the two virtually become indistinguishable in the climactic chaos of the final section of the film. Where it starts off with kids playing harmless football, the film ends with them engaged in twisted versions of cat-and-mouse and cops-and-robbers. When we are introduced to Shaggy, we get to know him as a skilled and active football player. This aptitude in football is what the younger children seem to admire him for most. They eagerly count how many times he can bounce a ball from foot to foot (Fig. 1). For now they do not count the number of people they wish to kill or the number of bullets fired. This innocence takes on a sinister tone as Shaggy kicks the ball in the air while simultaneously drawing his gun (Fig. 2). With accurate precision, he sends a bullet through the flimsy football. It is consequently rendered useless in very much the same way as this city of flimsy housing and garbage is left paralysed by the violence that is to take over in the decades to follow. Our attention is further drawn to the symbolism of this image of ‘play versus violence’ in that the shot itself is rendered motionless in a freeze frame (Fig. 3). Thus, in a halted state of progress, the story of the Tender Trio starts.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 4: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 2: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 5: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 3: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 6: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

The trio then leaves the dusty football field to rob a passing gas truck. Jean Oppenheimer observes the deliberate inter-textual reference to American cinema (Fig. 4-6) as a comment on the ignorance of these kids:

‘…Meirelles and Charlone wanted to suggest a sense of naiveté reminiscent of many old American Westerns. Sepia-toned or black-and-white footage seemed too obvious, so they instead went with a warm, yellow tint. “Fernando and I watched a lot of Westerns […] We wanted the assault on the gas truck to be like a stagecoach hold-up, with the boys and the camera running alongside the vehicle like gunmen on horseback. The boys even wore kerchiefs across their faces the way stage robbers did’ [7].

Such a statement could potentially fuel criticism of Meirelles for betraying Brazilian national tradition in favour of a blatantly foreign action genre. The notion of mimicry as formulated by Else Vieira may however be useful in this regard. Similarly to the integrated depiction of play versus violence, Vieira describes the fusion of national and international modes of representation in the City of God as a ‘strange familiarity’ that constructively challenges audience perception:

‘This, in my view, is an example of what Bhabha calls mimicry […] which permits identification of the image but disturbs, locates a crack that discloses what I would describe as the intentional ambivalence of City of God persistently breaking the audience’s expectations’ [8].

This notion of ironic (de)familiarisation seems a useful way to communicate and evaluate the impact of a film on our reality. Ironic inter-textuality thus plays an important part when analysing the gas truck robbery for such a comparison connotes the universal nature of the city’s problems. The Western and gangster film genres are themselves deeply suggestive of injustice and social failure. The problems we find in Cidade de Deus occur worldwide where children roam the streets of poverty – in all of South America as well as in the slums of the USA, Africa and Eastern Europe.

What is more, it is as if the innocence or ‘naiveté’ of this robbery already predicts the future fusion of child’s play and crime. We are presented with a golden city of opportunity where kids are often visually framed by goal posts – here of particular interest as football is Brazil’s most lucrative and positive export with its best players mostly coming out of the favelas (Fig. 7). Moments later, however, the heroic trio is similarly framed by the metal bars of the gas truck – their current goal (Fig. 8).

Figure 7: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 7: The Tender Trio (click on image to enlarge)

Visually as well as thematically, the narrative fits the old Brazilian Cinema Novo mantra. However, in the next section, which takes place in the seventies, the story moves into a transitional stage in which the film arguably introduces elements of its new mode of expression. The camera is now freed from the tripod as the characters move into a period of vibrant colours, marijuana, salsa music and suggestions of nihilism. The concept of the heroic theft is abandoned, as capitalism slowly penetrates the favelian mindset.


B. A ‘Godless’ Rio


After Li’l Zé’s death the pace of the film takes a sigh of relief as it slows down into a series of static and long shots. The gang war is over and things can return to normality. However, exhaling is necessarily followed by another inhale – a fact painfully attested in the last scene as Meirelles assaults the audience once more with the sinking feeling that the next breath of air promises to be just as polluted, perverted and potentially toxic as the preceding one.

Figure 1

Figure 9: Concluding Shot (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 12: Concluding Shot (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 10: Concluding Shot (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 13: Concluding Shot (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 11: Concluding Shot (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 14: A Godless Rio (click on image to enlarge)

This one-shot conclusion to the film opens with the camera tracking Buscapé and his friend Stringy as they walk down a broad street apparently leading out of Cidade de Deus. They excitedly discuss the future awaiting them at the newspaper. Due to the photos he took of Li’l Zé, Buscapé now has a steady income as a fulltime journalist whereas Stringy landed an internship as a result of Buscapé’s influence. Although initially moving with them, the camera does not follow them out of the city. It opts to suddenly stop in its tracks in order to observe them from a distance. Like cowboys walking into the sunset, we see these hopefuls making their way into an alternative future in which order is seemingly restored (Fig. 9). Yet, contrary to the conventions of the invoked Western genre, such a sense of hope does not bring the film to its logical conclusion. Instead, Meirelles continues to challenge expectations as he allows the film to literally change direction when the Runts enter the frame from the left (Fig. 10). Buscapé and Stringy are blocked from view and consequently their story as alternative to the favelian cliché is muffled. One is forced to follow the camera’s lead and shift one’s attention to the group of youngsters – who are directly responsible for the murder of Li’l Zé and ironically also indirectly responsible for Buscapé’s successful escape from a life of crime. The camera passively watches them walk towards it and back into the favela, panning with the group as they walk into a narrow garbage-scattered path surrounded by dilapidating buildings (Fig. 12). As the group finally disappear into one of the side streets, a deserted image remains prompting the question: What next? The words ‘Based on a real story’ appear on the screen and so it is for the first time explicitly said that the events are not ‘merely’ a ‘story’, but a concrete history (Fig. 13). The desertedness of the final frame isolates this singular story as an example of a wider reaching plural condition that consists of a multitude of similarly bleak realities. What is more, the dialogue points attention towards the existence of an additional rival gang not mentioned in the film before: ‘Have you heard of the Red Brigade?’, one of them asks. ‘No, but if they come, we will kill them’, another responds. The implications of another systematic repetition or rather, continuation and escalation of violence still haunts the frame as it fades into darkness. Hope has no place in the City of God for God has forsaken it. Hope for these people is an illusion cloaking the reality underlying favelian life. The film’s conclusion therefore points towards an ill-fated reality that hangs over the city like a ghost. It is a presence that, in the long run, nobody can deny or truly escape from.

Whereas up until now, the camera was completely involved with the action in an Eisensteinian sense, this scene detaches the camera from the action giving it an observational quality. In many ways, the camera becomes a haunting presence itself … our ghosts watching the beginnings of history repeated. As a wide angled, handheld long shot, the camera is transformed into a version of Vertov’s kino-eye, that is, into our mechanical gaze. Meirelles thus treats technology and the camera as superior to the human eye by apparently subscribing to the belief that we can only see life as it truly is through the camera apparatus (cf. D below). The mechanics of life is shown to be a repetitive rhythmical process [9]. By detaching itself from the action, the camera captures reality in a way that uncovers truths hidden to the human eye – a fact that Buscapé evidently understands. It can go where few human eyes are willing or even capable to go. Contrary to the rest of the film, this scene no longer visually assaults the audience by the montage of shocking imagery. But, due to the fact that we are forced to take a step back into an observational mode reliant on where the camera takes us, Meirelles makes us see the sickening social contradictions illuminated by an ‘unfragmented’ or undisturbed use of the camera. We are notably forced to eavesdrop on the Runts’ conversation, which centralises a disturbing truth that sucks the colour out of the lives of these children. Moreover, it is by no coincidence that this shot is coated in a soft, almost dream-like blue that drowns out the richness of other colours in the spectrum.

The group subsequently passes a fresco depicting a picture-perfect image of a beach idyllically coloured in dreamy hues of blues, pinks and yellows. In the painting’s background we can see the island famously visible from the hill upon which the statue ‘Christ the Redeemer’ overlooks Rio with outstretched arms (Fig. 11). Like the painting, the colouring of the scene invokes a peaceful atmosphere as the Runts casually walk down the street. However, although such an observational use of the camera is highly realistic by nature, their conversation reveals the illusionistic quality of this peace. The veneer is uncovered as we hear them discuss who needs to be killed next and why. Accordingly, the encouraging innocence of Buscapé’s earlier conversation with Stringy is drained out and forgotten in the light of the path down which we see the Runts now obliviously venture into. Moreover, whereas in the seventies the beach still represented a place of refuge to Buscapé and his group of friends, a painful truth is revealed here. The Runts … the future generation of the favela, do not even pay the slightest bit of attention to this quixotic image of the ultimate peaceful existence as illustrated on the mural. To them it is just as insignificant and unreal as the ‘postcard’ image of a perfect Rio redeemed and protected by God. The religious promise of ‘come, ye little children to the safety of the Kingdom of God’ has no place in the film. Never are they shown to be invited by protective and outstretched arms. In fact, if any invitation is ever extended, it is one that results in a gun in their hands. In one of the film’s most disturbing earlier scenes for example, a young boy called Steak, eager to fit in, is invited to come and ‘hang’ with his friends. But in the end, he is given a gun and forced to kill a member of the Runts. Children in City of God are burdened with the frightening insight that nobody, not even God, will ever fend for them. All they can do is fend for themselves. Ultimately, the film de-christifies life, by which the image of God is reduced to a small, unrecognisable speck in the Brazilian night (Fig. 14). In God’s place, we see children adopting the religious pose at several junctions in the film (Fig. 15-20).

Figure 1

Figure 15: Outstretched Arms (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 18: Outstretched Arms (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 16: Outstretched Arms (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 19: Outstretched Arms (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 17: Outstretched Arms (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 20: Outstretched Arms (click on image to enlarge)

The meaning of outstretched arms is therefore considerably more ominous in its anthropocentric tone. One of these instances is notably present in the final moments of the film (Fig. 11). The camera follows the Runts from the bigger, more positive picture to the enclosed perspective of the alleyway. As they turn into this narrow alley that disappears into the favelian unknown, they decide to make a blacklist of people who need to be killed. It is a list however, that can only be compiled by the one amongst them who knows best how to ‘sort of’ write. Their premeditated killings range from acts of revenge to petty irritations by people who merely think they are ‘hot stuff’. Giant, the group’s smallest and youngest member however, is not part of this conversation [10]. He silently trails behind. As soon as the rest of the group realise he is not with them, they irritably turn around to look back towards the camera. Having lost his shoes, Giant clumsily puts them on again. Before running up to them, he challengingly opens his arms at the rest of the group. This tiny little boy, dwarfed by his surroundings, has already seen too much in his short number of years. Not only has he looked death in the face when Li’l Zé shot him in the foot as a punishment for not ‘respecting the rules’ of the city (Fig. 16), but now he has also become complicit in murder. Life holds no more surprises for this young boy. At the age of four or five, Giant is already a man not living, but waiting to die. By being involved with the Runts it is as if he has chosen an unprotected path that can only lead to purgatory, then hell. As a follower of this gang, he has therefore in effect crucified himself. Moreover, as Vieira points out, the irony contained within this motif of the Christ-less Rio, is that ‘with great fervour, children in City of God hold hands and pray to the Lord before beginning a slaughter’ [11]. But what is more, in their constant efforts to physically model themselves in God’s image, they simultaneously separate themselves from God in a psychological sense. Giant’s Christ-like pose therefore communicates no suggestion of salvation. The reality it signifies instead contains a terrifying observation:

‘The celebrated yet invisible image of the Christ might be witnessing, from the distant heights, a new generation of violence and drug traffic being born. But the blessed figure remains unseen in and from City of God’ [12].

Additionally, the images rendered visible and audible often also depict a surreal world not only forsaken by the image of God, but also embraced by the image of Death. The favela is thus transformed into a kind of hell on earth.

Figure 21: Bené’s Death (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 22: Biblical Reference – Horse (click on image to enlarge)

As mentioned earlier, the camera loses control over the image towards the end of the second section of the film when Bené is accidentally killed. His image is sprawled out on the floor while Li’l Zé hugs him in anguish before aimlessly firing his gun into the air (Fig. 21). The camera looks down into an oppressive void … into a hell filled with dark holes sporadically sliced into the image. The frame is haunted by the knowledge that, moments before this room was filled with the laughing faces of people dancing in a vibrant montage of energetic colour and light. Now however, the film is suddenly totally devoid of these qualities as Meirelles includes a strobe-effect. Our vision is consequently drastically impaired and our sense of space remarkably disorientated. Although a single distanced image, it differs quite distinctly from the unobstructed observational shot of the film’s conclusion. Here, the image is deliberately fragmented and dwarfed by its dark surroundings. The shot eventually fades into darkness, but as it fades up again we are in an altered state of reality as the image briefly enters an entirely surrealistic, yet highly religious mode.

This third section of the film opens inside the quarter of Cidade de Deus controlled by Li’l Zé’s rival, Carrot. Two kids obediently patrol its entrance as Bené’s murderer comes to seek refuge with Carrot’s gang. More interestingly however, in the upper left hand corner of the frame we unexpectedly see a white horse standing outside Carrot’s squat (Fig. 22). We also briefly hear its snort on the silent soundtrack. It is a pestilent image with a pale and sickly horse close to death. It is thin and small instead of strong and healthy – a religious notion most likely derived from the Book of Revelation:

‘I looked and there was a pale horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth’ [13].

A plague of death is about to sweep over the favela as the gangs subsequently fall into a state of aimless cross-killing. The horse and its separate riders therefore symbolise an authority to kill that escalates in this section into a full-scale war in which the camera not only frantically documents the events, but also becomes a weapon itself.


C. Technology as Weapon


‘The camera becomes a weapon against the violence of non-recognition or mis-recognition. It is a demand for social visibility in the structure of the film […] The camera is additionally a technological metaphor representing alternatives in life beyond dire poverty or drugs’ [14].

Vieira continues by pointing out that this technological dimension ‘signals a new conception of representation, which is the use of sophisticated technologies to render visible and realistic the more intangible aspects of culture’ [15]. Accordingly, City of God opens with Buscapé’s photographic camera pointing directly at us – the audience, existing outside the filmic world and inside the real world it replicates (Fig. 23). Yet, Buscapé is quickly sucked back into the unknown darkness as he is placed behind a barred grid above the name of Brazil’s most infamous slum (Fig. 24). In doing so, Meirelles creates a powerful image – prison-like through confinement, deserted through isolation and insignificant through distance. It is an image in which the observer becomes the observed as the act of filming/recording is inverted outwardly. It is as if Meirelles presents us with a visual replica of a city created in our own image – a Godless reality, which (as Buscapé puts it) was purgatory, but now is hell. Like the inhabitants of the city, the instruments are turned on one another as camera films camera. A mutual relationship is induced albeit from an obscured and distant place called the Cidade de Deus.

Figure 23: Camera as Weapon (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 24: Camera as Weapon (click on image to enlarge)

Our relationship towards Buscapé however remains ambiguous despite the fact that we are aware of where Buscapé is filming from. Is he capturing our image from an entrapped position, or could it perhaps be the other way around? Are we in fact looking from a perspective trapped by the same old technologies? Are the camera and other new techniques liberating weapons against a tradition of art? Moreover, where are we looking from and what are the implications of our perspective? In a single shot, Meirelles thus visually formulates a multitude of key considerations of the social problematic intrinsic to the film’s narrative as well as its style.

Figure 25: Camera as Weapon (click on image to enlarge)

Figure 25: Camera as Weapon (click on image to enlarge)

During the film’s climactic sequence, we again see Buscapé in a situation similar to the opening. Armed with his camera, he points it directly into Meirelles’s film apparatus (Fig. 25 and 26). The camera in some way takes the place of Shaggy’s gun previously directed at the audience during the gas truck heist (Fig. 7). The camera becomes a quasi weapon baring triple witness to an ignored social problem, a brutal murder and a corrupt police force. As if handling a gun, Buscapé anxiously captures the events on film, shooting and reloading in automated reaction time. What is more, throughout the film he speaks of avenging his brother’s murder by Li’l Zé. However, he is the one consistent character in the film incapable of murder. He represents a powerful alternative to the violent hoodlum, namely a progressive member (not boss) of society. He furthers himself and therefore his own community through the peaceful mastering of new technologies. When he peers through his camera at the bullet-ridden corpse of a man once feared, he entombs a violent image with a bitterly ironic ‘click’. Again the death of one means the survival of another. Li’l Zé’s death inside the city has secured Buscapé’s future as a photographer outside the favela. He walks away with his weapon flung around his shoulder, looking back as if freed from this violence, but also imbricated and tainted by it. The viewer is left uneased by the knowledge that the problem is regarded as solved by the publication of the dead gangster’s photograph, yet the lingering problem of a corrupt police force remains unexposed out of fear.


D. Conclusion


By using City of God as a contemporary example of modern Brazilian filmmaking, I hope to have illustrated the social filmmaker’s responsibility to develop considered visual systems placing social realities under relentless scrutiny. Asking ‘why’ and ‘how’ Meirelles made the choices he did, I hope to have also indicated ‘why’ and ‘how’ films based on fact have a vital role to play in society. Conscious observation of history by audiovisual media may lead to a real and current understanding of social dilemmas. Through the understanding of such situations, their reality is made visible and thus shown to be potentially changeable. Meirelles’s visual style communicates the chaotic world bequeathed to a new generation of children by an indifferent society – a world of which they are desperately but unsuccessfully trying to make sense. The viewer is made aware of his/her involvement in the current state of affairs. Society is asked to take responsibility for conditions in the favelas, to act through the observation of history in order to perhaps change the chaotic spiral of such slums across the globe. To end with the words of Arnaldo Jabor:

‘We do not screen this film, it looks at us. Like an epic of the war of the wretched who were given life in and from Paulo Lins’s book. Our life as spectators, with clothes, food, a girlfriend at our side, and then a pizza, has become ridiculous. The film is a blow to our sense of normality. It shatters our point of view. We Brazilians have become a nation of the guilty, our faces looming behind those children with automatic weapons killing one another’ [16].


[1] Gati, André, “City of God: A Landmark in Brazilian Film Language, in Vieira, Else R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Critical, Cultural and Communications Press: UK, 2005, p. 50.

[2] Vieira, Else R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Critical, Cultural and Communications Press: UK, 2005, p. iii.

[3] Gatti, André, ‘City of God: A Landmark in Brazilian Film Language’, in Vieira, Else R. P.(ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Critical, Cultural and Communications Press: UK, 2005, p. 44 & 51.

[4] Bentes, Ivana, ‘The Aesthetics of Violence in Brazilian Film’, in Vieira, Else R. P.(ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Critical, Cultural and Communications Press: UK, 2005, p. 83.

[5] Bentes, Ivana, ‘The Aesthetics of Violence in Brazilian Film’, in Vieira, Else R. P.(ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Critical, Cultural and Communications Press: UK, 2005, p. 83.

[6] Oppenheimer, Jean, “Shooting the Real: Boys from Brazil”, in Vieira, Else R. P.(ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. 27.

[7] Oppenheimer, Jean, “Shooting the Real: Boys from Brazil”, in Vieira, Else R. P.(ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. 27.

[8] Vieira, E. R. P., ‘Introduction: Is the Camera Mightier than the Word?’ in Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. viii.

[9] Bordwell D. & Thompson K., Film History: An Introduction, New York: McGraw Hill, 2003, p 185.

[10] Giant is coincidently the same child that was previously shot in the foot by Li’l Zé and forced to limp away after Steak decided to rather shoot the older boy lined up next to him against a wall – execution style (see Fig. 16).

[11] Vieira, Else, R.P, ‘Introduction: Is the Camera Mightier than the Word? Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. xiv.

[12] Vieira, Else, R.P, ‘Introduction: Is the Camera Mightier than the Word? Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. xiv.

[13] Cf. the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of St John) Ch 6, verse 8.

[14] Vieira, Else, R.P, ‘Introduction: Is the Camera Mightier than the Word?’, in Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. xviii.

[15] Vieira, Else, R.P, ‘Introduction: Is the Camera Mightier than the Word?’, in Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. xviii.

[16] Jabor, Arnaldo, ‘Preface’ in Vieira, Else R. P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. iii.


The Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of St John).

Bordwell David & Thompson K., Film History: An Introduction, New York: McGraw Hill, 2003.

Jabor, Arnaldo, ‘Preface’, in Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. iii-iv.

Nagib, Lúcia, ‘Talking Bullets: The Language of Violence in City of God’, in Vieira, Else, R. P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, pp. 32-42.

Oppenheimer, Jean, “Shooting the Real: Boys from Brazil”, in Vieira, Else R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, p. 26-31.

Vieira, Else, R.P, ‘Introduction: Is the Camera Mightier than the Word?’, in Vieira, Else, R.P. (ed.), ‘City of God’ In Several Voices: Brazilian Social Cinema as Action, Nottingham: Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2005, pp. x-xxviii.

Woodhead, Leslie, ‘Dramatised Documentary’ in Rosenthal, Alan & John Corner (eds.), New Challenges for Documentary, 2nd ed., Manchester University Press: Manchester, 2005, p. 475-484.


City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Miramax Films, Brazil/France, 2002).


All images in this article comes from the film: City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Miramax Films, Brazil/France, 2002).

The usage of these images are purely for educational purposes. We therefore subscribe to the view formulated by Oxford Journals on their website.