The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), A Retrospective Review

SecretLifeofwalter

Director – Norman Z. Mcleod

Writer – Philip Rapp, Ken Englund, Everett Freeman

Starring – Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo

If you want to have more hoots than a battalion of tawny owls, and to witness comedy genius at its best, then this is an adventure story for you.

Made almost sixty years before Ben Stiller’s recent remake, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stars the vivacious and effervescent Danny Kaye as Walter Mitty, an absent-minded, yet highly imaginative proof reader who works for a firm that publishes sensational pulp magazines. Constantly hen-pecked by his mother, insipid fiancé, boss and vile in-laws, Walter spends most of his time having lurid day-dreams of being a classy, infallible hero. In a series of beautifully stylized scenes, breathlessly interlaced within the over-arching narrative, we get to watch Danny Kaye flexing his comedy, acting and singing muscles as a master surgeon, swanky old time gambler, effete French hat designer, singing fighter pilot, and pugnacious cowboy.

However, quite by accident, Mitty finds himself ensnared in a genuine conspiracy adventure when he sits next to a beautiful blonde (Virginia Mayo) on the train one day, whom he had previously only seen in his fantasies. Quickly embroiled in some intrigue involving a cabal of murderous art thieves, Mitty, the bumbling buffoon, must swiftly learn to bridge the gap between his own clumsy pusillanimity, and the wicked grace of the heroes he imagines himself as.

The result is spell-bindingly silly and side-splittingly funny. Danny Kaye has a physical comedy style unmatched since the early silent comedians. Every scene is crammed with as many gags as it can reasonably contain without become excessive, each one perfectly timed in its execution. I really am amazed that I have never come across this actor before, as he has all the energy and comic integrity of the three Marx Brothers combined. He exhibits more flexibility and ingenuity than most actors display in their entire careers, and I was quite concerned that I might stop breathing for want of laughing at him so much!

Of note, especially, are the two musical numbers that have been squeezed in, giving Kaye an opportunity to exhibit his frenetic energy to the fullest, without having to worry about being too silly. He reminds me very much of Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain, with maybe an extra pinch of cocaine for moral support.

One of the film’s magical numbers – Can be found here.

Another nice touch is the surprise appearance of Boris Karloff as a sinister hoodlum disguising himself as a benign psychiatrist and homicide expert. “Did you know that if you impale a man’s brain with an icicle, you can kill him quite satisfactorily without leaving a trace?” he asks Mitty, not long before he pushes him out the window!

Why this movie isn’t a comedy classic I don’t know. A surprising and colourful fantasy adventure of comedic grace, with genuine moments of Hitchcockian terror and farce, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is likely to capture the laughter of even the most absent-minded of viewers.

Final Rating – 4.7

 

Reuben F.Tourettes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty Years – A Short Story

‘Unfortunately,there is no mistake,’ she said, closing the file. ‘You’ve failed, yet again.’…. The words reverberated around my cerebrum, turning my mind into a demonic pinball machine. ‘You’ve failed again’. If ever there was a story written of my life, if ever I should become prominent enough to warrant a biography, a depiction of my gradual stumble through the race that is life, ‘You’ve failed again’ would be as apt a title as any. At least, if one is talking about functioning in the world that men long before me had built without my consent or my say so.

For twenty years these walls have been my home. For twenty years I have paced this box like room, a caged animal forever denied his freedom. For what crime? For being born beautiful, not scarred or tarnished by the traditional frailties of man. You all run in circles, like lost chickens removed of their heads, flapping in the wind, going nowhere. I was born beautiful, I could see the world in a way you people never could. Am I the crazy one? My friend, my dear reader, in a world that was the bastard offspring of random chaos swirling in an infinite vortex, why, the only crazy recourse would be to remain sane.

My mother knew, early on, that I was a special sort. At school, as a young child, I never had much if any time for those around me. I didn’t dance with the great masquerade that is the traditional relationship paradigm of young children. Nobody came to my house for dinner, and never once did I show interest in attending or hosting birthday gatherings. Solitude was my friend, and I liked it that way. What I didn’t like, was how my father would treat me, late at night, when the doors were locked.

He was a respected man, a local politician, I believe, and to the outside world, we were the model family.

He was a successful man, my father, in every sense of the word. He was blessed with twinkling blue eyes, eyes as deep and as seemingly eternally beautiful as a river. They appeared as if they swam, never standing still. He could do anything, say anything, but if he caught you with those eyes, why, forgiving him was the only logical recourse. And late at night, when my mother sleep idiosyncratic with the rest of the world, that was when those eyes would pierce through the darkness of my bedroom. In these times I can tell you with some certainty of conviction that they would shine brighter than ever, and he would creep into my room, and enact strange doings.

I know what must be running through your mind at this moment, and let me take a moment to clarify. My father never did anything untoward to me of a sexual nature. These late night visits were always accompanied by a book, a book of a mystical and fantastical nature, in a text that I could never understand or comprehend. My father could, and thus every night, at the witching hour precisely, he would recite passages to me, and strange and fantastical things would happen.

Great figures would appear; figures of such a disturbing and grotesque stature I can barely comprehend, let alone describe to you with any accuracy. They defied what defined ‘Anthropomorphic’ as they were eerily human in shape and nature, yet as far removed from such as any animal mortal eyes had ever laid upon. Words could never do justice to how I felt, watching my father’s fascination as he attempted to engage with these beings. He would always tell me;

‘Jacob, my son, never speak during these meeting, for these beings have no time for our mortal selves, and only I, after years of research and study, am possible of any form of equality with them.’

One night, he came as usual, at the same time he always did. Again, he read from the book’s pages, speaking in that tongue that sounded too me like no language ever devised by the tongues and minds of men. As per usual, a manifestation revealed itself, but what was unusual, was its nature. During my father’s late night rendezvous with the supernatural I had become quite accustomed to many a manner of monstrosities. This thing, however, somehow stood out from its peers. A great floating paradox in a sea of monstrous conformity. I tried my hardest to heed my father’s warning, tried my hardest to keep my lips sealed as if by an unbreakable adhesive, but I could not. I turned to the creature, and before my horrified father could stop me, said thusly, with a voice that trembled and quaked;

‘What are you?’. The creature turned instantly to my father, and its eyes,if one could call such previously black and deep articles eyes indeed, flashed for the first time with an emotion that was distinctively human. The emotion was anger. It pointed a single finger at my father’s distraught face and that was the moment my life forever headed down a path from which it could never return, and from which twenty long years of my life would be forever lost.

A thin line of red appeared across my father’s throat, as if somebody had drawn it with the red ink. Then, to my eternal horror and disbelief, his head simply fell from his shoulders, rolled to the floor, and ended face up. That final look of terror and shock forever etched upon its now still features. Then the creature bent down, picked up the book, and stared directly into my soul, via the route of my eyes. It never spoke, not once, but thought a single thought of coherence that was beamed directly into my own mind; I AM DEATH. I AM THE END OF YOUR FATHER. I AM THE RUINING OF YOU. I AM THAT WHICH YOU WILL NEVER KNOW, AND WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER. With that final utterance, the creature vanished, and I was left alone, with the corpse of my father.

In my panic I never checked the room before first running hysterically to my mother, who in turn alerted the authorities. This was a mistake, for, on the floor, by the corpse of my father, was found a knife. A knife that was covered in the fingerprints of yours truly. The story I gave was, naturally, dismissed, and I was deemed mentally defective and shipped here, to this ungodly place, a place of freaks and outcasts. They never did find the book.

Here I was left to rot for twenty years. I never changed my story, never deviated once from even the most minute of details. Yesterday, they put me up for reevaluation, and today they would give me the results. Surely, after twenty long years of telling the same tale, spinning the same yard thread-for-thread, they must logically concede that this is the truth. They ask me ‘What happened?’. I tell them the only story I know.

I enter the nurse’s office with a great sense of joy and anticipation. Finally, after all these years, they must set me free. I have told them everything they need. Finally, finally, she will set me free, and my life can begin again, finally exorcised of those long ago demons. I enter the small room, and smile at her, a genuine smile. I am not restrained. Never once have I struck out a guard, never once have I acted in violence or malice within these walls, and as such, never once have I been under restraints. I smile at her, and sit down, and she offers me tea.

‘How are you feeling, Mr.Nektar?’ She asks me, politely enough.

‘That depends on that file on your computer, Nurse Deckart,’ I respond, with genuine affection and politeness, ‘ I can only hope that you have deemed me fit again for society. I kinda miss it, you know?’. She smiles at me again, and sits down at the computer. I stare at her, intently, the world momentarily at a stand still. Twenty years. Twenty years. Twenty years. Here I go, I’m out, after twenty long years! Her face drops, a frown etched upon it. It is a look of apology and sorrow and I know then that my time here is not at an end.

‘It says here you’ve failed the psychiatric evaluation,’ she declares, with a sincerely apologetic tone.

‘It…it can’t be,’ I desperately plead and beg, ‘There must be some mistake!.’

How did I expect any other outcome? Hell, I must have been crazy.

Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994), A Retrospective Review

LEONONONON

Director – Luc Besson

Writer –  Luc Besson

Starring – Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman

My next stop on my seemingly eternal voyage through IMDB’s top 250 films took me to Léon: The Professional – my third experience with the works of Luc Besson. After the first two were the bizarre and not-so-great Fifth Element (1997) and the absolutely ridiculous Lucy (2015), my expectations were not particularly high. As a result of this I was merrily shocked as Léon: The Professional far exceeded them, by being a visually appealing, well-written thriller with true soul to it.

Léon, the professional in question, is a ‘cleaner’, which is his term for a hitman. After Mathilda (Natalie Portman) sees her entire family murdered by a corrupt and psychotic DEA agent (Gary Oldman), she forces herself under her wing, and demands he takes him on as a protégée of sorts, so as she can prepare for her own revenge. Quickly, she falls madly in love with her protector, and he is forced reluctantly to form a bond of sorts, whilst trying everything within his power to keep things ‘professional’.

As the film pivots and hinges on the relationship dynamics between Reno’s previously cold and emotionally distant Léon, and Portman’s hot-headed and emotionally unstable Mathilda, it was integral that the two leads deliver performances of significant quality. Fortunately, both deliver in spades. Reno has always been a personal favourite of mine, and I don’t think he’s ever been better than he is here. He manages to perfectly portray the balance between icy killer and emotionally awkward human being. The juxtaposition between the cool professional who kills, and the awkwardly fumbling human being he becomes during anything remotely resembling human contact is absolutely wonderful and in turn creates an endearing character.

Portman, at the tender age of twelve, puts in arguably the greatest performance of her career, and, I do not hesitate to say this, potentially the greatest child performance I have ever seen. She is fantastically believable as a complex character, forced into an adult situation whilst still juggling with the naivety of childhood. It is a rough and violent coming-of-age tale and Portman delivers a performance far beyond her years, at the time, at least.

The ever-dependable Gary Oldman is also clearly having a blast here as the corrupt and deliciously psychotic Stansfield. Some may argue he’s chewing scenery, but if he is, then what he’s coughing back up is magnificent, so let him carry on chewing. All the performances throughout are magnificent, and none of the central characters put a foot wrong.

Besson’s directing is beautiful, as he gets everything from the visuals to the pacing correct, right up until the inevitable overkill finale. The cinematography is delightful, as it borrows lovingly from the best of the French New-Wave movement. A lot of extreme-close ups at the start give us a great impression of secrecy and privacy; and, as Leon’s ‘cover is blown’ the shots become wider and more revealing. It’s subtle and clever storytelling via imagery, and inarguably, it is what cinema was intended to be all about. It is stylish and effective, and thanks to a well-written screenplay full of emotion and genuine character development, Besson cannot be accused of ‘style over substance’. Everything is done for a reason, he never merely ‘shows off’. The score is also magnificent, in particular the Lynch-like ambient hum during our introduction to Leon’s world via the first ‘job’ we see him perform. It is incredibly intense, and that magical use of score has a lot to do with it.

Léon: The Professional is easily the best work of Besson since he crossed over into the mainstream eye, and is more than the ‘stylish thriller’ it has been touted as. It’s fantastically shot, wonderfully written and features a relationship dynamic that is as beautiful as it is potentially horrendous. And yes, let’s not forget that; this is a film about a young girl being taught how to kill whilst sharing obvious sexual tension with a much older man. The subject matter is, in that light, rather disturbing, but guess what? Film is art, and it has the right to push the levels of comfort, so long as it can remain tasteful. Léon: The Professional manages this careful balancing act and thus remains a stylishly shot thriller with a lot of soul to it.

 

Final Rating – 4.7

 

By Joshua Moulinie

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946), A Retrospective Review

Its_A_Wonderful_Life_Movie_Poster

Director – Frank Capra

Writer(s) – Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra

Stars – James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore

Shockingly enough, when first released, It’s A Wonderful Life was both a critical and commercial flop. Over time however, it would go on to gain a huge legacy as an all-time classic of the ‘Golden Age’ and would be eternally remembered as a magical family Christmas affair. For these reasons, I always had a pre-existing stigma about the film; forever fearing it would be a cheesy and contrived generic family fodder. I could not have been more wrong, as this is actually a relatively dark and somber affair, as we see George Bailey (the immortal James Stewart) continually sacrifice his own happiness and well-being in his neverending quest to better the lives of those around him.

This leads to a life-long duel with the tyrannical corporate bad guy Henry F.Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who desires to monopolise the entire town in which they both live. George refuses to budge, and over time, we see him pushed closer and closer to the edge of his tether, before finally he stands at the top of a bridge, Christmas Eve, considering the end of it all. It is then that the angel that has been watching his entire life (serving as a very meta link between the audience and the movie) who steps in to intervene, save George’s soul, and in turn earn his own wings. It is a remarkably unique synopsis, and in particular, the use of the angels is a very ‘meta’ piece of cinema, back in an age when cinematic self-awareness was a rarity. This is a film that knows it is a film and has absolutely no issues letting the audience in on this, and thus it instantaneously stands out among its historical peers as one of the ‘Golden-Age’s’ most intelligent works.

One thing I noted whilst reviewing 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957) was that this era of cinema was defined by their beautiful screenplays. In the days before the blockbuster era led to simplified and dumbed-down scripts stocked full of exposition and tripe, this is a beautifully written piece of work. The writing falls in that beautiful little spot between authentic realism and cinematic writing. Whilst you watch James Stewart’s George wooing Donna Reed’s Mary, it makes even the most stony heart warm, as its the type of courting and love that we all dream of, even if we’d never admit it. ‘You want the moon, Mary? Just say so, and I’ll put a lasso over it and bring it ya. I’ll give you the moon Mary, how about that?’. It’s the kind of quote that everybody, male or female, in their most private moments, would love to hear at least once in their lifetimes. Thus it resonates, deeply within us all. That, my friend, is intelligent and beautiful writing.

In terms of cinematography, the film is very solid, particularly in terms of the era, and the use of shot choices is very standard golden-age, not particularly innovative or new, but simultaneously everything works and looks quite beautiful. However, there were two things that really bugged me; firstly, the use of jump cuts, seemingly at random intervals, felt less like a stylistic choice, and more like poor editing. In fact, one could reasonably assume that they simply lost some reels of film somewhere. It’s awfully jarring, as a character can be in the midst of a conversation one moment, then several inches to their left one shot later. In a Von Trier art-piece, it would make sense as a stylistic choice. However, against this backdrop of Golden-Age style filmmaking, it does appear more an error than a choice. Also, that bloody wash-fade effect. Perhaps at the time of making it was new and innovative, but after one has seen it for seemingly the twentieth time within two hours, it loses a little of its punch.

Those gripes aside, the story is a brilliant one, and fantastically told, especially in terms of performances. Jimmy Stewart’s legacy as an icon is more than well earned. He is absolutely electric throughout, and the man appears as if he literally urinates charisma. He’s charming, witty, well-spoken and that drawl of his is endearing, as opposed to annoying. Also, Lionel Barrymore’s evil Mr.Potter is a deliciously manipulative and slimy bastard, and one of cinema’s first ‘Maniacal corporate asshole’ villains and possibly my favourite. The rest of the performances are solid, if unspectacular, but the central relationship and juxtaposition between Stewart and Potter’s performances drive the film and provide (almost) all of the best moments. Of course, the ‘Moon scene’ would never have worked without the dynamite chemistry between Stewart and Donna Reed, as every single moment between the two is emotional, heart-warming and, most importantly, believable.

It is a sad and damning comment on the stagnation of the development of human kindness and decency that a film, made seventy years ago, has a central message that is just as relevant now as it was then, and I imagine, sadly, will be just as relevant in another seventy years. The film’s central messages and themes are simple, but needed; be a better human being, don’t throw other humans away in the pursuit of wealth and greed, people are not disposable, and nobody without friends can ever claim to have truly wasted their life. This is a moving, powerful and relevant film, even today, that possesses that rare ability to move every human being, from the open-minded and warm-hearted, to the most cynical and icy-hearted of men. It’s A Wonderful life, is, truly and utterly, a wonderful movie.

 

Final Rating – 4.3

 

Seven (1995) , A retrospective review

SE7EN

Director – David Fincher

Writer – Andrew Kevin Walker

Stars – Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow

The next step on my run-down of IMDB’s top 250 films of all times takes me into murky neo-noir territory with ‘Seven’; the film that launched David Fincher, alongside Fight Club (1999)  into a hipster icon, as his posters would go on to adorn, first-year film student’s walls worldwide. It also marked, alongside Silence of The Lambs (1991), a cultural milestone, as the intelligent serial killer returned to push-aside the masked slashers of the 70’s/80’s, and John Doe, The Zodiac Killer, would leave his legacy on cinema forever.

For me personally, Seven is a relatively straightforward affair throughout the first two acts of the film, before morphing into a finale that simply cannot be denied as one of the most intense endings you are likely to see in any film that snuck its way into the mainstream eye and exists outside of the art-house spectrum. Walker’s screenplay begins with some pretty unforgivably clunky exposition; ‘You’re always asking questions Somerset’, that relatively quickly present to us our character dynamics and what sort of players this game will be featuring. Eventually though, once this exposition is dealt with and the script is allowed to breath naturally, it evolves into a good (if not great) one. Particularly, a later speech on the nature of Apathy by Freeman’s Somerset is impressive.

In terms of the aforementioned characterisations, the film unfortunately relies on old tropes and charicatures that do nothing whatsoever to break any new ground. We’ve got Freeman’s Somerset; the old, cynical detective who’s consistent familiarisation with death and debauchery has left him emotionally cold to the world. This in turn allows him to thoroughly think rationally and calmly about every small detail, never allowing emotion to get in the way. Think a contemporary Sherlock Holmes, minus the opium addiction, and you’ve pretty much summarised Somerset.

He’s paired up with Brad Pitt’s David Mills; a hot-headed ‘rookie’, still full of hope for the world, run purely by emotion, which leads him at first into conflict with Somerset, before, predictably, they earn one another’s respect. This isn’t necessarily poor writing, as the relationship feels authentic enough, it just feels like we’ve seen it all before. More than likely, you have. And, as for Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of Mills’ wife, Tina, the less said the better. The character exists entirely as a plot device in order to; A, bring together Mills and Somerset as a unit, and B, in order to play the ending’s McGuffin. I’m not an active feminist, but even I was irked by how important her character was to the narrative, yet simultaneously how she, as a human being, was devoid of anything interesting to do or say.

Seven, as a story, is an intriguing yarn, if predictable in places. (It was obvious the fingerprints behind the painting would lead to the next victim as opposed to the killer) – but perhaps that was intentional, as we the audience reflect the cynicism of Freeman’s Somerset. Unfortunately, the rapid-editing and dramatic police shots suggest we were supposed to buy it, temporarily. I hope not, because I certainly didn’t and can think of few intelligent film-goers who would. Fincher’s direction throughout is strong enough, and the cinematography is decent if nothing particularly innovative, other than one impressive chase sequence, and THAT ending. We get a lot of noir staples; flashlights, darkness, low-lighting, emotional close-ups, and what is most impressive is the muted or ‘greyed-over’ colour palette that would remain a Fincher staple right up until Gone Girl in 2014. The mis-en-scene matches the film’s atmosphere tone-perfectly, and as such deserves praise.

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Seven was designed and built around the emotional impact of its final act, an act so powerful that, like the Sixth Sense, you don’t remember how the rest of the film wasn’t that impressive until several hours after you’ve finished the movie. A lot of this is down to Kevin Spacey as his performance as John Doe violently wrenches the spotlight from Freeman and Pitt, and in turn his performance, whilst the shortest of the three, in terms of screen time, superscedes them both. That’s not to say that Freeman or Pitt are bad, as neither ever are, but Spacey is just that damn good. From the moment he enters the picture until the moment he exits, he steals the show and elevates the film to a higher plateu. The parallels in thought pattern’s between Doe and Somerset give the film an extra dimension in the final act, as we realise they are merely two sides of one coin.

Seven is effectively a very decent if unoriginal neo-noir thriller, featuring a unique and iconic villain that transcends the film’s final act into a work of pure tension. If the film doesn’t immediately draw you in, despair not, and stick with it. This is all about the final act, and it delivers in a blaze of glory.

 

Final Rating – 4.2

 

Joshua Moulinie.

In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, 2012), A retrospective review

In Another Country

Director – Hong Sang-soo

Writer – Hong Sang-soo

Starring – Isabelle Huppert, Yoo Jun-sang

Country of origin – South Korea

It is generally considered the reason why films are so exciting is because they excise all of the meaningless fat from life, and leave just the juiciest extremities: our moments of great passion, adventure, romance, grief, and disaster.

But In Another Country is engaging and engrossing precisely because it is not exciting. Filmed in an unassuming, eternally foggy south-Korean seaside town, the film is comprised of three different stories, each one containing most of the same characters, the same locations, even some of the same events and dialogue, but with lots of beautiful and subtle variations to each of them. All of the stories focus on Anne (Isabella Huppert) a French woman staying at a seaside resort. In the first, she is film actress; in the second, she is having secret getaway with a South Korean man with whom she is having an affair; and in the third, she is a recent divorcee trying to escape her woes.

As said above, not a lot happens. The film is almost completely comprised of a series of insignificant incidents – the loss of a phone, the borrowing of an umbrella, the smashing of a beer bottle, petty arguments and small talk – all of the tiny brick-a-brac of experience that add unacknowledged color to our days. Because the director’s stylistic use of long shots, natural sounds, and natural lighting make it very clear from the offset that nothing of tremendous moment will happen, all of these tiny moments gradually begin to seem incredibly important. The smallest insouciant gesture becomes a ballet – an offhand word becomes a sonnet, imparted with the greatest poignance.

In this respect, the film is almost an exercise in narrative spaciousness. Each subsequent story seems to fill in the tiny gaps its predecessor hinted at but did not explore, so we get a sense of marvellous, yet tiny, wholesomeness, as these charming parallel realities nuzzle freshly into one another. It’s wonderfully magical and human – a delicate ode to all the purposeless ephemera of life, and just how much they really matter to us. And, throughout the film, it is a delight to have Huppert’s apathetically sassy Frenchness contrasted with the innocent yet clumsy propriety of her South Korean co-actors.

It is a film about dimensions, and the multiplicity of dimensions that exists gently within our every choice. If you want to be amused, without knowing why, and spellbound without being able to explain it, then you’d better visit In Another Country.

Final Rating – 4

Reuben F.Tourettes.

 

 

 

 

 

City of God (2002), A Retrospective Review

COG

Director – Fernando Mereilles/Katia Lund

Writer – Braulio Montovani

Starring – Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen

 

Throughout the duration of my  multiple-year odyssey through the long and illustrious history of cinema, I have been taken to many places I otherwise may never have visited; I’ve been introduced to the beauty of Denmark via Von Trier, Vinterberg and Refn; took many a trip through Seoul, courtesy of Mr.Park Chan-Wook, but, until today, Brazilian cinema was unfamiliar to me; until I took a visceral, emotional and exhilarating journey to the heart of the City of God, via the cinematic talents of co-directors Fernando Mereilles and Katia Lund.

Released in 2002 to much critical acclaim and fanfare, City of God stands in a lofty position, high up many critics list of the greatest ever works of world cinema, in particular the twenty-first century, and was the recipient of many awards and adulation, in particular picking up four Academy Award nominations in 2004, almost two years after the initial release in its native Brazil. It was entered in 2003 as Brazil’s entry in the ‘Best Foreign Language Picture’ category, but, ironically when considers the legend it would eventually leave, was rejected as not being considered worthy even of the top five candidates. Safe to say, as time progressed and it garnered a larger worldwide reputation, the film’s legacy continued to grow, and it is widely considered by many to be the definite work in Brazilian cinema in our lifetime. Lofty praise then, but does it stand up to the hype that surrounds it? In short, yes it does.

What is quickly apparent throughout City of God is that the co-directorial credits attached to the picture are hugely significant. The film never settles for any sustained period of time on one particular style of aesthetic, editing or cinematography; rather it continuously evolves and changes in order to match its continuously weaving twisting multiple narrative strands. At times the film is very reminiscent of Aranofsky’s Requiem for A Dream; featuring rapid-cuts, quick montages and, at one point, a very memorable use of split-screen, as two characters stories are told simultaneously in one location. Then, at other times, it becomes almost representative of a David Lynch piece; using ambient mood, slow lingering shots of dark and almost surreal imagery. The scene in particular after a shoot-out, in which we are shown the bloody and destructive aftermath via slow shots with a dark ambient moody soundtrack was particularly powerful and provocative, and, instantly following the rapidly cut shoot-out that proceed it, is a powerful use of juxtaposition that lingers in the mind long after viewing.

The only issue with this is that we end up in a situation where the film is entirely unique visually, and yet somehow feels like a mix and match of various techniques we’ve seen before. The problem is, traditionally, a film will stick with one of these styles consistently throughout, whereas City of God refuses to ever remain grounded with one visual/editing style. It leaves you with a situation where you feel like you are both watching something entirely unique in cinema, yet somehow you feel like you’ve seen it all before. You probably have, but probably never before in the same film, and never so rapidly changing and evolving like this.

A particularly subtle yet near genius technique is the use of the colour palette. During the beach scenes, the rare moments of happiness and peace for each character, the beach is beautifully saturated with colour. We get our look at the ‘tourist version’ of Rio. The picturesque idealistic scenarios of beaches and carnival antics. When we return to the ghetto, however, the colours are then muted and darkened, creating a perfect idiosyncratic with the film’s narrative. It feels almost as if Mereilles and Lund decided not to merely shoot shot for shot, taking in turns as it were, but to bring their own distinctive style to various segments, meaning the two film-makers perform a visual duet of sorts, and the results are quite spectacular, if potentially jarring and polarising to those more conditioned to traditional cinema.

The screenplay works beautifully, and is a finely woven tapestry of intertwining narratives, as the episodic storytelling is never jarring or confusing to the audience, is easy to follow, and gives us plenty of time to become accustomed to each character and grow authentically fond of them. Whilst we the viewer are told the story through the eyes of Rocket, well portrayed by Alexandre Rodgriques, every character has a part to play and none are weak or left without being fleshed out fully.

In particular, Leandro Da Hora deserves incredible plaudits for his wonderful portrayal of Lil’ Z, the power-crazed aspiring gang leader. One minute Z appears a violent psychopath without remorse, the next he’s a vulnerable and scared man, afraid of being left all alone, the last animal in a jungle from which his friends escaped. It’s a testament to Da Hora’s ability that he pulls of this deep performance with ease and looks entirely natural in the role. In fact, the entire casts deserves plaudits, because there is not a poor performance among them.

City of God is, undoubtedly, a very unique and fascinating film that gives us an intriguing and complex narrative that never feels over-written or as though it overstays its two hour run time. The visual style is such a fine and erratic blend of other works that it manages to stand out as one of those truly unique and viscerally arresting works of cinema. Perhaps that though is the point entirely. Perhaps the juxtaposition of visual styles was designed solely to remind us of the dark dividing line between what we the tourists know of the beautiful Rio, and the dark and seedy underbelly that is its true nature. Like Lynch ruthlessly exposed the true nature of middle America to us, so two has Meirelles and Lund exposed the dark heart of the beautiful City of God, and the result is a film that demands to be seen, and deserves its place of historical significance, if never quite reaching the level of a true work of genius.

 

Final Rating – 4.4

 

Joshua Moulinie,
26/01/2015.