Month: September 2017

Bit Analysis: City of God (2002)

City of God (2002), also known as Cidade De Deus, is a film directed by Fernando Meirelles following the journey of a kid in Rio de Janeiro showing both the dangerous and vibrant elements in which they violently collide at times. Meirelles agrees and states that “everybody [working on the film] did it with passion” according to an interview with Bradford International Film Festival 2010 which clearly shows as every element is magnetic; the music, the editing and the cinematography.

City of God has been described by Roger Ebert as “breath-taking and terrifying”. The film is clearly both as the city of Rio is split into the two binary oppositions, one is a lively and exciting one and a dangerous one. Meirelles opens with an extreme close-up of a knife being sharpened and this is emphasised to the audience as it sounds enhanced against the diegetic sound of people in the slum drumming. Meirelles then jump cuts to different close-up shots; different angles of the knife, carrots being peeled, a chicken and a general brief view of life in the slum. A chicken is then emphasised to the audience, as the chicken is forced to watch another chicken getting slaughtered. Early on we know that there is a recurring theme of blood and violence in City of God, the chicken could easily be one of the ‘Baby Gangsters’ and perhaps even a premonition into the future. The opening shows Rio as hectic and vital through Meirelles use of exciting jump cuts and enigmatic shots. This makes the audience curious and intrigued as the opening on its own is enigmatic through Meirelles’ techniques.

Baby Gangsters have key significance in City of God as Lil Ze (played by Douglas Silva as a child, and Leandro Firmino da Hora as an adult) started as a Baby Gangster and Rocket (played by Luis Otavio as a child, and Alexandre Rodrigues as an adult) could’ve easily become one leading a very different path. Meirelles shows the brutality involved with being a baby gangster. The scene starts with the Baby Gangsters talking about getting into the drug trade and the gangster business after performing small crimes, that Lil Ze does not approve off. As Lil Ze comes to punish them for their crimes, most try to escape and nearly all do but two. He asks them ‘hand or foot?’ referring to which body part they want shot off. Both decide on hand but are shot in the foot, which Lil Ze does to emphasise his power. He then forces the gangster prodigy Steak to kill one. The camera slowly zooms into his face, showing the pained look as he can’t bear to kill someone that could’ve been him. A close-up of the two children panning from one to the other, showing the look of distraught on their faces and how terrified they are. Lil Ze constantly insists that he wants to know ‘what he is made of’ pushing Steak to kill one of the children. Lil Ze is shown as an antagonist but the true enemy of City of God is society. Lil Ze is trapped and western society has encouraged the ‘American Dream’ ideology that money buys happiness therefore leading Lil Ze to a life of crime. Lil Ze is a lost soul and underneath his mean exterior is a shy teenager as seen when first interacting with a girl. Robert Warshow says that gangsters are tragic heroes, the modern equivalent to a Shakespearean hero, to which Lil Ze is and his tragic flaw is hubris. His flaw leads the audience to sympathise with him as it leads to his downfall.

Rocket is also a lost soul like Lil Ze and arguably a reversed doppelganger of him. Rocket and Lil Ze are binary oppositions; Lil Ze is representing the trapped society in Rio de Janeiro forced to serve their own justice while Rocket represents a beacon of hope much like Bruno did in Bicycle Thieves (1948). Rocket could’ve easily been the gangster, he even gets the chance to avenge his brother yet he does not. The fact he even considers this shows that he has some psychopathic tendencies, his destiny and fate was in his hands. Rocket could’ve become Lil Ze and taken over his ‘empire’ but chose not to. His brother’s words stuck with him and after the death of Shaggy; Rocket develops a passion for photography which essentially saves him from his possible life of crime. As Rocket is introduced, the camera changes to a calmer long shot zooming into a final mid shot. It is a change in pace and a binary opposition to the previous wild edits as they are brought to a halt. There are two subtle shots of Lil Ze, both close-ups of him but by a fraction of a second. This shows that Lil Ze has a split personality emphasising the theme of duality. Meirelles shows us the two character’s personalities before they have even had interactions by his techniques of camera making the audience intrigued. Lil Ze as an adult may seem immoral and a megalomaniac but from seeing his upbringing as a kid and comparing with Rocket’s upbringing, we cannot entirely judge him for his actions and pity him.

Ebert stated that City of God “announces a new director of great gifts and passions” as Meirelles is magnetic and his techniques create extensive meaning evoking audiences to respond. City of God kick-started a whole series that led to City of Men (2002 – 2005), but nothing is quite as harrowing as the original film. It shows poverty to a whole new level; the only spiritual predecessor would be Vittoria De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. City of God is an exciting and magnetising film, and deserves to be on a pedestal with Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) and De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.

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Classic Bit Analysis: Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Bicycle Thieves (1948), also known as Ladri di biciclette, is a film directed by Vittoria De Sica and shows the audience how the loss of an item such as a bike can make someone lose their identity in the process and such material possessions can alienate the true possessions such as family. The film “is a brilliant, tactlessly real work of art” according to Peter Bradshaw to which I agree as Bicycle Thieves is a great example of a film that is a moving art form that oozes emotion.

De Sica is known for his political themes in his movies. In Bicycle Thieves, he explores an austere post world war Rome. The film opens with a long shot tracking a bus of workers, the sombre tone of the music sets up the tone for the film. We are shown men arising from every corner as it stops. The camera stops as the bus does, only then to track the man from the bus. Then De Sica cuts to a closer shot of the men swarming the worker desperate for work only to be pushed down to the bottom of the stairs. The theme of stairs and ladders is one of the many recurring ones in Bicycle Thieves emphasising that most of these men, including Antonio, are at the bottom of everything and are oppressed by those at the top to remain in their current situation; emphasising that they are trapped.  The audience sympathise with these characters as De Sica cleverly manipulates the audience with the deadly combination of sound and camera work. This scene immediately shows that Rome is overcrowded and these men are desperate for jobs to feed their families after the likely steady income from the war. De Sica highlights these factors and poignantly does this to manipulate the audience into understanding their emotion and therefore feeling sorry for these people.

One of De Sica’s main characters is Antonio, a devoted, loving and hardworking father and husband, a man who goes on a journey and loses his humanity and identity on the way. He is psychologically complex and becomes corrupted by Rome. His tragic flaw is his inability to tell the truth which leads to him losing his job and his downfall. He is a lost soul as the film progresses but begins as an everyman. After being kicked out by many institutions that should help him such as the church, Antonio is left in a very desperately vulnerable matter and takes it out on his admirable son Bruno. De Sica shows an angled close-up shot of Antonio looking up at him showing him as a dominating figure as he yells down and slaps Bruno, to which the camera cuts to another close up of Bruno looking devastated as his view of his father as a hero has been shattered. De Sica cuts back to Antonio and he is seen to be looking almost regretful and ashamed of himself whilst finally cutting back to Bruno who has broken down and ran away from Antonio. This creates significant meaning as it finally shows the role reversal of both Bruno and Antonio, as Bruno is now the wise father figure whilst Antonio is childish and doesn’t think about his actions anymore. This scene symbolises his alienation and his true decent into becoming an outcast as his son doesn’t even want to be with him. Antonio’s fall in his dignity leads the audience to pity him as he has officially lost everything and now the respect of his son.

Whilst Bruno is shown as an adult figure during the previous scene, he is also still a vulnerable child who is in a dangerous world. At times, he is left defenceless against threatening characters such as the man at the market and the potential danger of him falling in the lake like the boy Antonio assumes to be Bruno. Bruno contrasts the world around him as he is a beacon of hope and a binary opposition to the corrupt world of despair and class warfare. Bruno is an innocent and the only pure substance in the film. Bruno, like most children, can have his affections bought through material substances as Antonio bribes him with food for forgiveness. This scene shows that despite his maturity, Bruno is an innocent who is on the verge of possible corruption which creates huge meaning in leading the audience to actively worry about this throughout the film and afterwards. The scene with Bruno and Antonio in the restaurant highlights how much they don’t fit into this system and emphasises class differences. Bruno is openly competing with a wealthy child, De Sica cuts between side close-ups of Bruno eating his food and dragging out the insides to a child using his cutlery elegantly. The competition continues as the upper class child receives desert and De Sica cuts between the two close ups of the children. Both children contrast and are binary opposites, as one represents the rich, elegant society whilst Bruno represents the struggle of the poor working class. The diegetic music is ironically happy in sequence despite the dark undertones but this dilutes the tension and adds humour to the film.

Bicycle Thieves emphasise that we cannot judge any of the characters based on a flat observation but go deeper through their roots and the realisation that it is society’s fault for not providing either of the films with what they need. There is no clear hero in any of the film showing a true skill for filmmaking and the director is neutrally representing both the positives and negatives of both circumstances. ‘Again the Italians have sent us a brilliant and devastating film’ [in relation to Bicycle Thieves] according to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times to which I agree as the skill of De Sica, through the use of Mise-en scene and all his other tools, elevates Bicycle Thieves to new levels. Bicycle Thieves is a monumental work of art, and will forever represent a post-war Italy. The film is timeless and an absolute film classic, a world without De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves is definitely a world I wouldn’t want to be in.

 

Classic Bit Review: Cabaret (1972)

Despite its gap in time since its release, Cabaret (directed by Bob Fosse) still has historical
significance. Cabaret is a film based on the book series ‘The Berlin Stories‘ by Christopher Isherwood which follows the journey of Brian Roberts, a British academic, and his move to Berlin in which he meets the illustrious Sally Bowles at the boarding house he resides in during his stay. The film is about the relationship between these two contrasting figures and how this changes during different events, with the backdrop of the oblivious Cabaret ‘Kit-Kat Club’ and pre-WWII Germany.

 

One of the most interesting features Fosse uses in Cabaret is the juxtaposition between the ‘Kit Kat Club’ and the outside of the Berlin streets, and he uses these to show the different attitudes in people during the austere time of the beginning of the Nazism rise in Germany. The club satirises the Nazi party, whilst not realising the extent of their actions. Fosse’s unique use of the camera and the environment is flawless. The musical number ‘Two ladies’ performed by the enticing Emcee, played marvellously by Joel Grey by which he deservedly won an Academy Award for, uses various jump-cuts to change the shot to various long shots which track the characters. In Cabaret, Fosse also uses these cuts to jump to the audience’s reaction to the scene. After the three performers go under the bed sheet in a long shot, the camera dramatically jumps to different audience members to which they are all amused and entertained by this notion but the audience at home notice the change in the mood and shift in atmosphere. The increase in lighting switches to a dark blue colour which flashes maniacally as the music rises in tempo and the instruments are enhanced. This emphasises the unpredictability of the club, but mainly highlights that whilst the club may seem to be in a different ‘world’ to the streets of Berlin; the two are beginning to disturbingly overlap.

 

Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli is a surprisingly gem of the film. Her acting as Sally Bowles is not only brilliant during the musical numbers and the comedic aspects but also in showing how fractured her character is in this even more fragmented city. Grey, previously mentioned, is a crucial part of the film playing a trickster/devil hybrid archetype in which guides Cabaret‘s narrative. His performance is breathtakingly disturbing that all you can do is watch in awe. Michael York was almost born to play the part of Roberts as he plays him so effortlessly whilst so effective. The whole cast from Minnelli to even the singing Hitler youth is as close to perfection as you’ll get in a film.

 

Cabaret is one of those films you initially dismiss due to its genre, but as you watch it you
immediately become entranced. As the audience, you are spellbound by the opening and left feeling satisfied and haunted during the final static long shot of the Nazi as the credits role. Compared to his directorial debut of Sweet Charity (1969); Cabaret is the ultimate predecessor for Fosse.

Bit Review: IT (2017)

It is the start of the Halloween season, and to kick it off, Stephen King’s IT (2017) directed by Andy Muschietti has been unleashed on the world. I saw the film last night at midnight, and barely slept since.If you don’t know the story already, it’s simple. A young boy named Georgie goes missing after been last seen near a drain pipe, and his brother,Bill, and his friends, called the Losers, go on a quest to find out what happens during their summer vacation thinking Bullies and family issues are the worst of their problems. They soon find themselves having horrific nightmares, and a lot more children disappearing. The Losers soon realise that something more sinister is taking the children, and the monsters name is Pennywise.
 
This newest IT film starring Bill Skarsgård as the infamous Pennywise is definitely scary. I am a huge Stephen King fan, and the old IT miniseries (1990) is one of my favourite adaptations. I watched the miniseries a few nights ago for a more refreshed comparison, and after watching the 2017 movie I conclude that they are both scary and brilliant in different ways.
 
The miniseries stars the legendary Tim Curry as Pennywise, is definitely more subtle and scary in a delicate and insinuated way. Pennywise is more of an enigma in the miniseries. In the 2017 movie, Pennywise starts off as an enigma but develops soon as a fully fledged monster. Skarsgård is scary as Pennywise. He is a tall, lanky and grotesque creature with a disturbing voice. The editing and CGI in the movie add to make him an even terrifying creature.
 
The kids are brilliant, as you’d expect. How could they not, with Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard and Jaeden Lieberher as they each add their own charm and wit to the characters. Richie, played by Wolfhard, and Eddie, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, are my favourites as Grazer is adorable and Wolfhard is just astonishing, and shows that he is a versatile actor who is gonna be a great adult actor in the future. Overall, I preferred the cast in the original miniseries but that’s my preference. The cast are still amazing, and all deserved their place in the film.
 
IT has definitely kicked my love of Halloween into overdrive, and I’ve started my binge of horror films to get myself into the season. A lot of people have questioned the film being set in the eighties and the film starting with the children rather than an adult’s recollection, but I feel that these don’t retract from the story or the film. Using the eighties in movies and film is a current trend, but it’s a trend that works as it brings a nostalgic feeling to most of the audience. I cannot wait for the second part, as the scene in which Barbara goes back to her old house as an adult is one of my favourite scenes in any movie. The only criticism I have is that I wish they didn’t make Georgie so damn cute. Believe the hype of IT, as it’s fun, scary and hooks you in.

Bit Review: The Artist (2011)

The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, and starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as George Valentin and Peppy Miller respectively. The story follows the relationship between the two, one being an older silent movie star and the other being a young starlet on the verge of fame in the wake of the talkies. The film won five Academy awards, seven Baftas and won six César awards. It pays homage to a vast amount of silent movies and stars, the lead character of Valentin is strongly influenced by Douglas Fairbanks and the film is influenced by directors such as Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Lubitsch, Murnau and Wilder.
 
The film starts with George Valentin at the top of his fame in the silent era of Hollywood. He had a huge house, fame and money and a gorgeous blonde wife. Peppy Miller is however just starting in her career, with her encounter with Valentin, she used the short lived fame to get an audition as an extra on his studio lot. From the charming first meet of the two at the beginning when she clumsily bumps into him, and Valentine shows what a funny and cool guy he is. During their second encounter, he becomes enamoured with her legs and they shared a small dance until she notices him. He saves her from being fired, and the two can barely get through their scenes without giggling or just being together. Soon, Valentin finds himself battling against the talkies and believes that silent films are still the future. Valentin evens states that “if that’s the future, you can keep it”. He ends up investing all of his money into a silent film and his loveless marriage finally ends. Whilst, Miller becomes a star who has transitioned from silent to talking pictures.
 
For a silent film to be made in the 21st century, it requires a huge amount of skill and manipulation. The film uses ingenious scenes such as where Valentin loses his voices and all you can hear are ambient sounds. The use of music is crucial to the film, and plays with the audience constantly to enact reactions and emotions. The score was composed by Ludovic Bource for which he won an Academy award. To act in a silent film typically means exaggerated movements to better understand the actors, however, that is not the case with The Artist. The actors are not over the top, and a lot is to be inferred by the audience which is clever but makes it easy to follow. The cast in my option were all brilliant, to act requires skill but to act in a silent film requires discipline and restraint.
 
It’s a gorgeous film, and despite the lack of colour I would say it’s mesmerising. I remember when this film came out, I rushed to see it at the cinema and I became obsessed with silent movies after that. I ended up watching a vast amount of German expressionism and a lot of Murnau. If you haven’t seen this film, you need too. It’s a wonderful homage to a beautiful time in cinema. Oh and there’s an adorable dog which will melt your heart, and I won’t spoil the end but the final scene is one of the best sequences I’ve seen in a long time.