PrasChaudhuri on WorldFilms: CITY OF GOD

Spanning three decades in a sprawling, downtrodden favela (slum) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, City of God traces the rise of crime in what is today one of the most notoriously violent boroughs in the world. Director Fernando Meirelles (Blindness, The Constant Gardener) follows a young boy as he tries to transcend the villainous, impoverished reality into which he has been born. Aspiring to become a professional photographer, he navigates through the gun-infested alleys and bloody passages of this bustling, infernal terrain in search of redemption.

Making the Journey: City of God           A midlife crisis hit me at 42. In 1997 my life was stable, my friends valued my merit, I was respected and professionally successful and I had the love of my family. Everything was going well. So why did I feel like I had a hole in my soul? That sensation of being stuck in a viscous and lukewarm rut. It was as if my life was asking for a shake-up.

Amidst this anguish I was given the book Cidade de Deus by a friend who suggested that I transform its 600 pages into a film. I read it and was moved by the same energy with which a rock climber chooses to suspend himself from a mountain 3,000 metres tall to make this film. Without realizing it, I began making choices that were apparently riskier: to film within the favelas’ hub of drug trafficking, to work with amateur actors, to create a script where a central character is unimportant in the big picture, to finance it myself and then sell it. I was discouraged from taking each of these steps, but these very choices made the project work in every extent. On his bulletin board, the screenwriter Bruno Mantovani tacked on a quote by Artaud that become the film’s epigraph: “Not knowing it was impossible, he went ahead and did it.”

What is the moral of this story?    I don’t know. But it made me even more wary of formulas and recipes for success. It made me realize that safe paths only take us to familiar places, and that we should thank anguish and internal struggles for they are the best combustion for great leaps. As it has already been said by the greatest Brazilian writer, Guimarães Rosa: “The stumble throws us forward.”

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