City of God: Brazilian Director Fernando Mereilles Splashy Debut

Brazilian director Fernando Mereilles made a splash on the international film world with his dynamic and exciting feature debut, “City of God,” an account of the drug-fueled crime scene in Rio de Janeiro, one of the world’s biggest cities.

The film world-premiered at the Cannes Film Fest and was later released with great theatrical success by Miramax.


In its bold yet stylish approach, and depiction of violence, “City of God” recalled Alejandro G. Inarritu’s impressive 2000 Mexican feature directing debut,” Amores Perros” (Life is a Bitch”), three years earlier.


The screenplay by Braulio Mantovani is based on the novel by Paulo Lins, but “City of God” is very much a director’s work. Spanning from the 1960s to the 1980s, the story revolves around a boy who wishes to keep clean and become a photographer, despite the live-fast-die-faster mentality around him.


Blending location photography, fast-paced editing, imaginative approach to narrative, expertly choreographed action, “City of God” documents how what begins as petty crime and petty rivalries spiral out of control and turn into murderous gang wars that tear the city part, making it on of the most violent metro centers in the world. Grater authenticity is also achieved through the casting of many actors are non-professionals


Marseilles possesses the power to make life seem gritty and realistic while maintaining an almost fantastic story. The film is set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where a young boy, Rocket (Alexandra Rodriguez) wants to make a success out of his life but finds himself entrapped amidst the rampant gang culture. Rocket gets involved with many small-time hoods whose brisk drug war keeps him from finding true love, while providing a backdrop for a planned career in photography.


We see his environment through his eyes and voice-over narration as he tries to avoid getting caught in the fray, while keeping grip on reality. Along the way, we meet rival crime family heads Benny (Philippe Haagensen) and L’il Ze (Firmino da Hora) as well as their underlings, including drug addict Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele).


One of the more interesting characters is Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge), a mild-mannered bus driver who, after the death of his father, decides to join the gangs and executes revenge.


Meirelles’ camera illuminates the daily tragedies and dangers faced by the characters, with quick, tempered editing of visceral images that we won’t easily forget. Shot entirely in Portuguese, the movie features several intense scenes. In the end, it’s the camera of young Rocket that captures the explosive and thrust upon the lives of those around him.


Oscar Alert:


The movie was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Director and Best Cinematography.


Director’s Future

Mereilles was then recruited to Hollywood, where he made the excellent political drama, “The Gardener’s Wife,” which won Rachel Weisz the 2003

Supporting Actress Oscar. However, “Blindness,” Mereilles’ next film (wich was opening night of the 2008 Cannes Film Fest), was a major critical and commercial disappointment. Even so, the verdict is still out there regarding this gifted director’s prospects.