Ultimate 2000s Blogathon: City of God (2002) by Flick Hunter

Wrapping up the third week of the Ultimate 2000s Blogathon is Norman from Flick Hunter. If you haven’t been to Flick Hunter, you should give it a go and check out the myriad of movie reviews over there. He also is a frequenter of various film festivals and offer some great opinion pieces. For this blogathon, he brings a review of 2002’s Portuguese crime drama City of God.

City of God

Taking its title from one of the most dangerous favelas in the Western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro effectively voiced by Alexander Rodrigues as Rocket; City of God  spans three decades from the end of the 60’s to the mid 80’s where residents are prisoners in their homes caught in violent battles between rival gangs. The original group the Tender Trio features Rockets brother Goose (Renato de Souza), Clipper (Jefchander Suplino) and the gentlemanly Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen) small-time hoods at targeting fuel trucks and motels. Entering into the ’70’s Their antics are quickly replaced by the very hardcore Lil Dice (Leandro Firmino de Hora) kindly Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) rivaled by Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele) and the former law-abiding Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge).

Rocket is at the centre of the piece. A childhood friend of Lil Dice he has a camera that is always by his side and as a local can get shots of the violent event as they occur in the favela while professionals are afraid to tread, can’t get access and even if they could, would not be trusted.

Co-Directors Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund take the story from the book by Paulo Lins who grew up in the favela. The narrative follows the main characters from when they are little kids, get their first guns in hands, commit their first crime then push the violence beyond the generation before. The champion of this is the above mentioned Li’l Ze aka Li’l Dice as a youth and due to his connection to Rocket allows him into their lair to photograph them with all of their firepower. Rockets photos are noticed by a newspaper photo editor where he delivers papers who publishes them. Rocket expects to be in grave danger for the reveal but instead, Li’l Ze and his crew buy up every copy cheering Rocket when they encounter him next.The co-directors keep the main themes of the devastating effects of poverty, class warfare, violence begetting violence close to the surface. As cinematographer Cesar Charlone inflects a sharp gold based colour plate for the production. Split screens feature heavily as a device of showing rival gangs committing crimes as the principals barrel along towards each other on a collision course. The directors set up an acting workshop for the locals which gives the film raw authentic energy alongside the basic fundamentals of acting leading to the exceptional performance of Firmino de Hora as Li’l Ze. He has the 1000 mile stare, crooked teeth, dark skin plus short man’s syndrome. His solution killing for fun, randomly and not getting attached to anyone or anything. The creators keep the dark humor coming in the 80’s the young up and coming crew know as The Runts who were mirrors of Ze to the Tender Trio back in the day but prepared to take things much further than the  Ze/Benny and Knockout Nick battles of the 70’s as they rise to power towards the end of the piece as they lay out their death list in the infant stages of the Red Command.

City of God is a film about kids killing kids in an environment where no one in government or with influence cared. Rocket toward the start of his narration notes that there was no electricity or paved streets and the business Elite and Politician could not give a second thought to any of the problems there. It’s a fast-paced, ultra-violent gritty look into life in a favela based on real events that are more twisted and harrowing than anything that could be thought up in the word of fiction.

***** A Five Star Film

City of God | Fernando Meirelles / Katia Lund | Brazil / France | 2002 | 130 Minutes.

A huge thanks to Norman for joining us with a fantastic review.

You can see the list of the entries for the blogathon HERE.

Fantasia Festival 2018: The Nightshifter (World Premiere, 2018)

The Nightshifter (2018)

The Nightshifter

Director: Dennison Ramalho

Cast: Daniel de Oliveira, Bianca Comparato, Caua Martins, Fabiula Nascimento, Annalara Prates, Marco Ricca

Stênio works the night shift at a morgue in a very large, very violent city. On the job, he sees cadavers in every conceivable state, often the victims of horrific gang warfare. While most would be rather unsettled by it all, Stênio is not. For the dead speak to him. Not in any metaphorical sense but in a very literal way. Stênio was born with an occult gift and while not everyone would be at ease conversing with mutilated cadavers on slabs, he has learned that there are endless secrets that can be gleaned this way. Related to crime. To prosperity. One day he learns a terrible secret about people in his own life. He commits the sin of acting on knowledge obtained from the dead, cursing himself and those dearest to him in the process. – Fantasia Festival

Talking to the dead and messing with the paranormal is not exactly a novel idea. However, The Nightshifter takes its audience to the Brazil landscape where the audience gets to see the society and the unrest. The opening scene with police radios and societal unrest in a city filled with violence and crime makes it quite an effective way to make it feel immersive as it leads to a victim being taken to the morgue where Stenio (Daniel de Oliveira), the main character of The Nightshifter appeared. Based on a short story, The Nightshifter highlights some Brazil society issues from its patriarchy and the male arrogance to the bigger picture of violence and crime in the big city.

The Nightshifter shows a lot of great qualities from the immersive sound design that created both atmosphere and accentuated the jump scare moments. The deliberate loud noises and creep albeit at times, cliche sounds effects (like doors creaking open or slamming shut, to mysterious knocks) all were timed and merged well with the atmosphere to make it feel much more effective. It is all about executing it at the right time and for the most part, The Nightshifter lives up to the task. However, a part of this also was its downfalls as the middle had some dragged out moments which felt a little bit of the same with still effective jumpscares but felt like going through the motions of a horror film but not adding substance to the story, making the scares a little more predictable. Perhaps, it is the middle act’s pacing that needed to be better improved.

The Nightshifter
Aside from those little moments, this Brazilian horror film is quite the indie gem. It knows how to escalate the story in a charming way. Visually, there are some skilled shots. At the first half, it relied heavily on the gruesome work at the morgue. In the second half, it relied more on the lighting and scene set-up for creating atmosphere.There was guts and gore all over the scene with close-ups and overhead shots. The cinematography and lighting create depth for the scene from watching Stenio in his bloody job. At the same time, the odd choice of using CGI effects for the dead when they are talking makes for a rather goofy and strange feeling that oddly adds some dark humor in the beginning that eventually build to become some rather bone-chilling transformations by the end. It is something like this that best show the example of how the story itself also escalates bit by bit as Stenio’s life and his decisions start off in an easygoing day of conversation with the dead until he learns a secret from his own personal life that causes him to use a knowledge from the dead and act upon it with some horrifying consequences. The best part is that these consequences also build as the haunting moments start light and build to an intense final act. The final act’s effectiveness does rely on its audience attention to detail while boasting some great acting throughout to get to that powerful final act by Bianca Comparato (the leading actress from Netflix Original TV series 3%) as Lara, Fabiula Nascimento as Odete as well as Daniel de Oliveira as Stenio.

The Nightshifter
From the sound design to the cinematography and general execution, even if there were some slight pacing issues in the middle act, this long-awaited debut feature film from seasoned director Dennison Ramalho with many short films like Ninjas and a segment in The ABC of Deaths 2 shows his eye for detail and imagination. There are genuinely bone-chilling creepy moments in The Nightshifter. As a final note, The Nightshifter could be leading to a future TV series, so the ending scripted might be a head-scratcher for some but it opens up the possibility for future plans. It takes away a little from the self-contained element initially but taking away this knowledge, it does still make sense. Despite the small missteps here and there, it is a worthy foreign film to check out.

This review is also found on That Moment In.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast (2017)

Friendly Beast

Director and writer: Gabriela Amaral Almeida

Cast: Luciana Paes, Murilo Benicio, Irandhir Santos, Camila Morgado, Humberto Carrao, Ariclenes Barroso

 For the small audience that got to see the World Premiere of Portuguese thriller Friendly Beast, this was as the director calls it “another animal”. Friendly Beast takes place in a small restaurant as it nears closing and last minute customers are there along with the owner, a waitress and a chef. As tension within the restaurant staff with the owner and even its customers build, two armed robbers burst in. This sets the stage as the owner now peels off his friendly smiling face and counteracts in his own way. On the surface, Friendly Beast is an intense thriller that sees two key characters find who they are, both oppressed of what they truly want whether they know it or not. Under this is many tones about control in general to man and woman’s power in relationships, different races and social class clashes. Gabriela Amaral Almeida, presented this debut piece and told the audience that this script was stemmed from anger and frustration from the director and writer of Friendly Beast as Brazil’s political changes stunted her progress with another project. While she explains that the film has undertones of highlighting the Brazilian culture and politics, for those unfamiliar with Brazil politics, there are still many other themes to explore.

Friendly Beast is an intriguing piece to talk about. Mostly because there is so much care and detail at how the entire script is staged. Yes, this movie is carefully staged so that each room creates a different tone and atmosphere. This becomes an important element to understanding the character development. Friendly Beast is a one setting movie and yet because of how the rooms are used, it feels like there is much more space and meaning. For example, the dining room is where everything is put on a facade. It is falsely pretty but as the space becomes more disordered throughout the movie, the characters have also changed to be more outwardly on being themselves while in contrast, the washroom is a private closed space and its where the most real feelings are released in hiding.

There is no doubt that Friendly Beast is about its characters in all their motions and quietness and words. Every move is rehearsed and calculated to fully express what that scene wants to show its audience. In fact, the two main characters here are familiar faces. Murilo Benicio, who plays restaurant owner Inacio, is a renowned actor in the Brazil film industry. Luciana Paes, who plays Sara the waitress, was recently in Netflix Original series 3%. Both of them deliver incredibly engaging roles that even in their most quiet moments create tension. It makes the audience experience various phases and we soon realize that the performances reflect a great script put together to give each moment in this 90+ minutes importance. Some scenes will challenge you and others will literally make you feel uneasy and that also has to do with the sound design and the soundtrack.

There are times when directors talk about what they are trying to portray in their piece and it is a far-fetched idea that doesn’t get executed well. Gabriela Amaral Almeida and Friendly Beast is definitely not the case. If you see this movie (which you should), take the time to see between those lines and see the story she is trying to tell. Take a close look at what she has staged and let the building quiet tension grab you. And when Friendly Beast ends, it may very well sit on your mind afterwards.