City of God famously starts with a chicken making a desperate getaway from a cooking pot. The rapid-fire editing and percussive, intense action set up the film’s intensity and technical proficiency. But this humorous moment has long since faded by the time we reach the end of this fatalistic look at organized crime and police corruption in a Rio slum. Along the way, we discover that the chicken represents the innocent people condemned to live in the Cidade de Deus favela; sooner or later, it’s into the metaphorical frying pan, or the fire. Escape is rarer than a hen’s tooth.
In 2002, City of God was a revelation. How did a middle-aged, middle-class advertising director, and a young documentarian come up with an epic crime thriller to rival Hollywood’s brightest and most respected auteurs?
It’s a sad side note that credited co-director Kátia Lund often failed to receive recognition for her work on the film. Called in to assist Fernando Meirelles, who had apparently never set foot inside a favela, her contribution was essential. Yet Meirelles, as the officially designated “director,” garnered most of the awards and resulting international career opportunities. It’s a frustrating situation that isn’t even unique – see also Loveleen Tanden (Slumdog Millionaire), or Christine Cynn (The Act of Killing), who are both, perhaps not so incidentally, women too. This video essay explores this issue, as well as analyzing why City of God, through the work of all its talented contributors, continues to have such impact.
Watch Now: Fernando Meirelles’s and Kátia Lund’s City of God.