Fernando Meirelles

7.4 City of God (2002)
6.5 The Constant Gardener (2005)
6.4 The Two Popes (2019)

Fernando Meirelles (Brazil, 1955) co-directed two films with Nando Olival, E no Meio Passa Um Trem (1998) and Domesticas/ Maids (2001), an adaptation of Renata Melo's play, before Cidade de Deus/ City of God (2002), co-directed with documentarian and screenwriter Katia Lund, an adaptation of Paulo Lins' novel (1997), the film that established him internationally, filmed with non-professional actors who lived in the favela. It employs an innovative storytelling technique that mixes documentary-style scenes, gangster-movie scenes and surrealistic scenes while being mostly moved forward by the narrating voice. It is a sort of generational film that shows three generations of criminals, and how each generation is more violent and amoral than the previous one. It begins with a trio of funny thieves, and then descends into the deadly chaos of a druglord and then ends with a group of street children who promise to be even more brutal. Despite the surreal humor of many scenes, it is a desperate, hopeless film. (The English-language version changes the names of the characters with truly silly names like "Carrot" and "Rocket"). A group of armed kids is chasing a chicken down the stairs of a favela. A passing photographer with a camera dangling from his neck happens to be passing by and the kids shout at him to stop the chicken. He does so but then realizes that the kids stopped and raised their guns in his direction. He turns and see that cops are standing at the other end of the street with their weapons too ready to shoot. A flashback, narrated by the photographer, Buscape' ("Rocket"), shows us how this situation unfolded. Initially, in the 1960s, Buscape' and his childhood friends, notably "Dadinho" (Li'l Dice), are children playing soccer in the dusty fields of the brand new favela Cidade de Deus. The favela's top criminals are a trio of young thieves nicknamed the "Tender Trio": Cabeleira ("Shaggy"), Alicate ("Clipper"), and Buscape's older brother Marreco ("Goose"), but they are not that dangerous. For example, they stop a truck full of cooking gas tanks and distribute the gas tanks for free to the people of the favela before the cops arrive. The narrating voice of Buscape' also informs us that the poor families of the favela were sent there after remaining homeless due to floodings and arsons. Dadinho wants to hang out with the trio but they make fun of the little child. However, they follow his advice when he tells them to go big and rob a brothel. They enter the brothel and take money from the owner and the customers by simply showing their guns. They don't shoot anyone. Dadinho is left outside, charged with shooting at a window if the police arrive. When he shoots the window, the trio runs away. They hear multiple shots and assume that it's the police. Comically, the trio doesn't know how to drive and they end up crashing the car into a restaurant. The trio splits and two of them have to hide on tall trees, waiting for the cops to leave. Each of them has to hide for a while. Cabeleira hides at the house of the girl he loves, Berenice. Alicante joins the Church. Marreco wants to quit. His father is an honest man and forces him to start working with him as a fishmonger. Marreco hides his gun in the house and makes his little brother Buscape' promise he will never take the gun. Police raids intensify. Several people got killed during their brothel robbery. Three months later Cabeleira is trying to woo Bernice and gets angry when Bernice accuses him of being a killer: Cabeleira protests that they didn't kill anyone during the brothel robbery. Marreco gets in trouble again, this time by sleeping with the wife of a police informer named Paraiba ("Shorty"): caught in the act, he has to comically run away naked. Marreco has to leave town and on the way he meets Dadinho and Cabeleira's little brother Bene' ("Benny"), two children who started a career as thiefs. Seeing that they have quite a bit of money, Marreco takes some of it. Dadinho pulls out his gun and kills him. Cabeleira promises Berenice that he is ready to start a honest life with her, but just then the police close in on him. The couple stops a car and forces the driver at gunpoint to drive them away. However, comically, the car doesn't work and Cabeleira has push it. The cops shoot him and he dies. Meanwhile, Paraiba has killed his cheating wife.
Now the film jumps to the 1970s. Buscape', now a teenager, dreams of becoming a photographer and having his own camera. He is in love with a beautiful girl, Angelica, but she has a rich hippy boyfriend, Tiago. When at the beach Angelica asks to smoke pot, Buscape' rushes to town to buy some. And now we are introduced to the drug dealer Sandro ("Carrot") who manages the business while Neguinho ("Blacky") does the actual work. Meanwhile, Dadinho has turned into Ze after some sort of voodoo initiation. And now, in a flashback within the flashback, we see what happened that night at the brothel: Dadinho shot the window so that the trio would run away and then he entered the brothel and started killing everybody, thoroughly enjoying the massacre. The little psychopath Dadinho (who then killed Marreco) is now a more dangerous 18-year-old psychopath, Ze, always acting in the company of the spectacled Bene'. Ze decides to take over Neguinho's drug business. He enters Neguinho's place just when Buscape' is there to buy drugs for Angelica and so Buscape' witnesses when Neguinho is forced to submit to Ze. Buscape' would like to avenge his brother's killing but has no weapon. The narrating voice tells us that Ze quickly becomes the dictator of the favela by killing most of his rivals except Sandro, who is a childhood friend of Bene', thereby pacifying the favela. Buscape' becomes Angelica's boyfriend thanks to the fact that Tiago has become an addict. While romancing Angelica at the beach, they are surrounded by children who are called Caixa Baixa ("Runts"), hated by gangsters like Ze because they disturb the quiet of the favela and attract the police. Buscape' simply gives them what they want and they walk away grateful. Ze, however, gets increasingly annoyed by the Caixa Baixa and one day leads an expedition against them. He and his gang capture two of them. Ze forces one of his rookies to kill one of the two and then lets the other one go free so he can warn the other Caixa Baixa to stay away from his territory. Meanwhile, Bene' steals Angelica from Buscape'. Buscape' has a humble job at the supermarket and gets fired when Caixa Baixa steal some items and salute Buscape', remembering his kindness at the beach. This causes Buscape' to realize that only crime pays in the favela. He takes the gun that his brother Marreco hid in the house and convinces a friend to steal. However, they are too honest to rob a bus driver, who is also from the favela, Mane' ("Ned"), and they are too honest to rob a bakery. Angelica wants to leave the favela and eventually convinces Bene' to quit. Bene' tells Ze that he's going to leave him and organizes a farewell party. At the party Ze feels miserable: he is ugly and doesn't have a girlfriend. He humiliates in public a guy who is only guilty of having a beautiful girlfriend. Tiago gives his camera to Bene' and Bene' gives it to Buscape', knowing that Buscape' wants to become a photographer. While the dj is playing loud rock music, Ze gets into an argument with his old buddy Bene'. Neguinho sees a chance to kill Ze and shoots but instead kills Bene'. Ze cries over the body of his dead best friend. Neguinho runs to hide at Sandro's place, but Sandro, upon learning that he killed his friend Bene', kills him: Sandro knows that, without Bene''s protection, he will have to face Ze. Ze is grieving, wants revenge, and at the same time is humiliated that girls don't like him. He randomly sees a girl who rejected him when he simply asked to dance with her, attacks her boyfriend and rapes her. Mane' takes refuge in his family's home. Ze and his gang look come looking for him. His older brother walks outside armed with a knife and tries to send them away but Ze insists on seeing Mane'. His brother pulls out the knife and tries to kill Ze but is quickly shot by the gang. Now it is Mane' who wants revenge. There is only one man who can help Mane': Sandro, who is preparing his own army to fight Ze. Sandro gives him a gun but Mane' only manages to kill one gangster. Mane' is an honest man and doesn't want to become a gangster but Sandro convinces Mane' to join his gang promising never to hurt an innocent. They begin a series of robberies to raise the money they need to buy weapons. During the second robbery Sandro kills a security guard in order to save Mane''s life. During the third one it is Mane' who kills a security guard to save Sandro: the rule that innocent should not die has immediately exceptions. Finally the war between Ze's gang and Sandro's gang erupts in the streets of the favela. Meanwhile Buscape' has started working for a newspaper, not as a photographer but as a simple delivery boy of newspapers.
One year later (the time of the beginning of the film) the war between the two gangs is still raging on, and people even forgot how it started. Ze decides to arm the Caixa Baixa in order to expand his army. Mane', wounded and hospitalized, is interviewed on television. The newspapers print his photo in first page. Ze sees it and becomes jealous of Mane''s popularity. One day Buscape' is passing by when Ze's men are trying to figure out how to use a camera. Ze asks Buscape' to take pictures of them and then gives Buscape' money and the camera as a gift in return for having Buscape' develop the pictures. Buscape' knows only one place where they can be developed: the newspaper. When the pictures are developed a zealous journalist, Marina, sees them and immediately realizes their importance. The following day Buscape' sees one of the pictures in the front page. Unaware that Ze is craving for publicity, Buscape' instead thinks that Ze will kill him for having published the photo. Buscape', furious, complains with Marina. Marina pays him for the photo and offers him shelter in her apartment. That's where Buscape' finally loses his virginity. Ze is pleased when he sees the newspaper article. The newspaper wants Buscape' to take more pictures of gang warfare and gifts him a professional camera. Meanwhile, Sandro helps Mane' escape from the hospital. Ze makes the mistake of cheating an arms dealer, not realizing that he is interacting with a humble middleman while the real dealer is a corrupt police officer, who obviously swears to catch Ze and make him pay.
Now we are back to the first scene of the film: the gang is chasing the chicken down the streets of the favela and Buscape' gets caught between the gang and the police. After a shootout, the cops leave. Ze asks Buscape' to take more pictures of his gang, and here Buscape' understands that Ze is not mad at him at all. When Sandro attacks, Buscape' takes picturs of the battle. During the battle Mane' is killed by a gang member that he befriended. This kid had told Mane' that he wanted to avenge his father. Mane' didn't know that this kid was the son of the security guard killed by Mane' during a robbery, and that he, Mane', was the man that this kid wanted to kill. The cops arrive in large number and arrest both Ze and Sandro. Sandro is arrested but Ze is taken to an abandoned building. Buscape' follows them unseen and takes picture of the compromising meeting: the cops take Ze's money to pay for the weapons that Ze stole but then let Ze free. However, Ze is attacked by the Runs that he himself has armed. They kill him brutally and declare themselves the new rulers of the favela. Buscape' now has important photographs of both the gang battle, of the arrest of the gang leaders, of police corruption and of the death of Ze. Buscape' hesitates and then only delivers the pictures of the gangsters, keeping for himself the evidence of police corruption. The picture of a dead Ze is another front-page scoop and Buscape' is officially hired by the newspaper. Buscape' walks down a street and seconds later the Caixa Baixa walk up the same street, in the opposite direction, and we guess that they will be even more ruthless than Ze.

He continued to specialize in literary adaptations: The Constant Gardener (2005), from John LeSandro's novel (2001), Blindness (2008), from Jose Saramago's novel (1995), 360 (2011), a loose relling of Arthur Schnitzler's play "La Ronde" (1897), and The Two Popes (2019), from Anthony McCarten's biographical play "The Pope" (2019).

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