COM 246

City of God Study Guide


Cidade De Dios (City of God) (2002) 


Directors: Fernando Meirelles

        Kátia Lund(co-director)


Screenwriter: Paulo Lins (novel)

    Bráulio Mantovani (screenplay)



Historical context


City of God was originally the title of a book written by Paulo Lins. Lins grew up in the favela named Cidade de Deus, from which the movie takes its name. Lins' novel portrays his real life experience growing up in the favela, which is still in existence today. It is a housing project that was started in the ‘60s, under good intentions, which quickly fell apart as the state failed to offer enough police support. The population in Cidade de Deus and other favelas got poorer, offering less opportunity to get out, let alone survive. Soon after, many of these favelas were laid claim to by drug lords who had free reign and where the law of the land resided with the toughest drug lords harboring the best arsenals. In fact, Meirelles opted to shoot the film in other favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro because it was too dangerous to shoot in the City of God.


Knowing the historical context surrounding this film, what kind of political statement does the film make?


Narrative context


Meirelles and Lund use a mode of story telling which subverts the chronology at some points in order to tell parallel and intersecting stories. They also employ the strategy of using voice-over narration by having Rocket tell the story instead of letting it unfold without internal commentary.


How does this form of story telling affect our viewing of the film?


Aesthetic context


There is a realism in the way in which many of the scenes of City of God were filmed that is disturbing in ways that other films depicting fictional violence are not always able to portray. At the same time the film provides a sense of realism, there is also something about it that is very polished, almost “Hollywood-esque”.


How is Meirelles able to achieve the realism felt in this film?


How does the “Hollywood-esque” production of the film affect our viewing of it?


Performance Context


City of God is especially interesting in that Meirelles cast actors, primarily, who had no acting experience. With a couple of exceptions the entire cast of the film were boys, young men and women who lived or had lived in favelas around Rio, some even coming from the City of God itself.


Why do you think Meirelles wanted to fill his film with unknown, non-actors?


What were these cast members able to bring to the film that professional actors, and especially well-known actors, may not have been able to?


Rhetorical context


Going back to what we’ve learned about ideology and film from the textbook and class, what kind of ideological stance do you think this film presents? What clues are you given? What doesn’t the film talk about?


What is the significance of the first scene of the movie with the chicken getting away from the slaughter and running through the streets?


What is significant about the story of Knock-Out Ned and the boy who joins Carrot’s gang?


What is significant about the final scene of the film, with the “Runts”?



Additional Resources


Interview with director -