Film Summary and Response

Fernando Meirelles, City of God (Brazil 2004)

‘City of God’ brings into light a gifted and passionate director Fernando Meirelles, who narrates a story of the slums in Rio de Janeiro. The film features two young adults growing in the slums, who choose different paths of life.  Rocket, a burgeoning photographer, is focused on documenting the increasing drug dealing related violence in the area. Lil Dice, who changes his name after growing to Lil Ze, is a striving drug dealer, who is involved in a tug of war with his rivals to control the slums. The film lays its basis on a real story. It portrays issues of drug abuse, violence and crime and how a young boy struggles to free himself from this web.

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The story is more of the rise and fall of Lil Ze as seen through the eyes of Rocket. The sycophant criminal wants to end competition through violence, and the only person who keeps him in tabs is his friend Bene. Rocket gets hooked into the lives of these two, but he doesn’t want anything to with crime.  Nevertheless, he keeps on being swept by the wave of the madness of his two friends. With the police being as corrupt as the gangs, there seems to be no hope for the dwellers of the City of God. As the film progresses, it becomes clearer that everything is getting out of control for the two gangs. Will the struggle ever end? What does the future hold for Rocket?

The film highlights the theme of hopelessness and redemption. For the gang members, there is no hope. All of them end up dead at the end of the film. Another criminal gang takes over and continues terrorizing the city. Rocket is the beacon of hope and redemption.

The film captures the reality of the slums through music. The music portrays fun and happiness amidst the chaotic and violent criminal activities. The series of violence in this film recalls “Gangs of New York” and its tone and structure are closer to “Goodfellas.”

Nabil Ayouch, Ali Zaoua (Morocco 2000)

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From “Gang of New York” to “City of God,” films on the lives of children living in violent slums characterized by drug dealing, robbery with violence and fierce gang battles have been taking shape in the movie industry. Ali Zaoua is a 90-minute Moroccan crime drama film produced in 2000 under the directorship of Nabil Ayouch.  In 2000, the film was awarded the Bronze Horse by Stockholm Films festival. In the same year, it was bestowed the Audience Award by Amiens International Film Festival. In 2001, the 6th International Film Festival of Kerala, held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala conferred the film with the Golden Crow Pheasant Award (Suvarnachakoram).

The film is about four homeless boys (Ali Zaoua, Kwita, Omar, and Boubker) who are trying to break from a large gang that is involved in petty crimes in Casablanca, headed by an elder boy, Dib. Ali dreams of becoming a sailor and leaving Morocco to an island with two suns.  The four are living in constant fears of revenge from Dib for leaving his gang. In a skirmish with the Dibs goons, Ali is hit by a rock and dies. Upon his death, Ali’s dream of becoming a sailor is achieved with a twist.  Determined to give their friend a decent burial, his friends manage to raise enough money to buy Ali a floating coffin. They also find an old sailor who agrees to help them bury their friend at sea.

The movie shows a contrast between reality and the fantasy lives the street children wish to have. The two are intertwined, and the only way they find a comfort zone is through a daily dosage of sniffing glue. The film does not aim at addressing the emotions of the viewer which would lead to action, but rather it arouses the feeling of achievement gained by sharing a moment with the less privileged in the society. The film appears to be more manipulative of human feelings, as much it has short episodes of heartbreaks and touching moments. The director chooses a perfect setting among old abandoned structures, where the street children stay, rather than the vibrant and bubbly city life. The film gets captivity from the enticing performance by the three boys and their tragic predicament coupled with their sense of humor, which gives a truly entertaining vitality.

Rem Koolhaas, Lagos Wide and Close (Nigeria)

“Lagos Wide and Close” is the first ever interactive documentary to be produced. It is a unique and rare story told of how the city of Nigeria has revolutionized over several years. It was filmed by Bregtje van der Haak as a documentation based on research conducted by Rem Koolhaas, a Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Harvard and The Harvard Project on the City. There is no publication of the documentary, but this online adaptation of the interactive documentary provides any interested person a readily available and perpetual resource.

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The documentary records how an estimated population of 24 million people struggles to live in the dysfunctional city of Lagos. Their survival heavily depends on their ability to take calculated risks, improvisation, and, more importantly, the kind of network being built around the city. Over 50 people start a new life in Lagos every hour. The documentary is based loosely on the life of a bus driver. It also gives previews of the lives of eight other inhabitants of Lagos. The documentary creates for the viewers an intimate engagement for a city which is hardly known to the outside world.

This documentary has a unique way of presenting the outcomes of Rem’s research by separating what the world see from the outside and the view of the city dwellers from the inside.  The viewers can switch from the close to the comprehensive perspective hence creating a realistic picture for the audience of the real experience of living in Lagos. 

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