How Important is the Music for the Impact and Success of “City of God”?
Based on an autobiography, written by a photographer, who grew up in Sao Paulo's ghetto during seventies, Fernando Meirelles’ criminal drama “City of God” has become a cult movie within days. Glenn Lovell from Mercury News in his review foretells it a destiny of a classic piece, while David Rooney from Variety calls it a “powerful and compelling crime odyssey”. The movie has been nominated for Oscar for directing, screenplay, cinematography and editing and for more than hundred other awards, sixty five of which it has received. Among the tools that director used to make his film so shrill and powerful is music.
A major part of two-hour film’s duration does not contain any music. Meirelles’ usage of soundtrack is moderate and wise.
He avoids the trivial path of adding tragedy to key scenes using dramatic score. What Meirelles does is almost the opposite. Most brutal scenes of the movie are supported by entertaining and soft music, mostly samba. Breaking all the rules and ignoring the clichés, the director puts Brazilian dance music on the frames with kids killing each other. As the story of drug dealer's flat is being told, which is all about murders and treachery, soft music makes the scene tragically absurd and emphasizes the cruelty of what is shown. Amusing samba accompanies the darkest moments of the movie. It shows up when Knockout Ned, who never wanted to kill innocent people, murders a man for the first time in his life. The ambivalence of the scene where Rocket, the protagonist and the narrator, is for the first time in his life acknowledged as a photographer is fortified by a festive melody. Though it is a big moment in Rocket's professional growth, those who recognized him as a photographer are juvenile gangsters that do not know how to operate a camera and proudly pose with guns. Festive music accompanying this passage highlights the bitterness of this episode and the impact. Tribal dance music supports the scene of brutal murder of the main antagonist, Lil Z, and this is also a scene telling about Rocket's progression as a photographer. Again, the poignant ambivalence is highlighted with the help of the soundtrack here. The audience is supposed to share protagonist's thrill as he makes shots that will certainly bring him money and fame, but these are the pictures of a man mercilessly murdered by kids.
Besides accenting the nonsensical nightmare of slaughter, music in “City of God” articulates what is not spoken. A vision, that protagonist's brother, Goose, experienced on a tree, and that made him leave gangster's life, is accompanied by a short ambient piece of music. In this small scene the Goose's sensation of touching the transcendental is revealed with the help of the ethereal soundtrack. Another episode where music tells the audience something before it is stated, is a scene where young gangster Shaggy meets a young woman that later will become his fiancée. …