Saturday, May 31, 2014

BRAFF NY ’14: City of God—10 Years Later

It was a big deal in Brazil when Fernando Meirelles was nominated for best director, but Katia Lund never got her Oscar props, because the Academy has issues with the “co-director” credit. However, this is strictly a management controversy. It is the hopes and unrealized dreams of the favela kids who appeared in their art-house smash that concern Cavi Borges & Luciano Vidigal, who document fates of the cast’s winners and losers in City of God—10 Years Later (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Brazilian Film Festival in New York.

Many of the nonprofessionals who appeared in City of God hoped it would be their golden ticket out of the favela. Not surprisingly, they were not particularly sophisticated when it came to negotiating back-end deals, but they did not have a lot of leverage in the process. Clearly, Meirelles did quite well for himself, but not a lot of the money trickled down. Hollywood would certainly approve.

Still, the television series and subsequent follow-up film, both titled City of Men provided steady work for many ensemble players. Nonetheless, Borges & Vidigal clearly suggest there is something rather arbitrary about the distribution of post-release success. Of course, it is pretty clear why Alice Braga advanced to a Hollywood career in films like I Am Legend, despite her limited screen time. Yet, it is harder to explain why some cast-members caught on and others did not.

If nothing else, 10 Years certainly re-establishes life is not fair. They bring this point home dramatically when they capture the reunion between Seu Jorge and the “kid who was shot in the foot,” who now works as a bellhop in the luxury hotel the actor-singer often patronizes. Ironically, he was offered a fair amount of work as a child actor during the immediate aftermath of City, but dropped out of the business due to family issues.

While Braga and Seu Jorge are each featured in their own segments, the absence of Lund and particularly Meirelles is conspicuous. Whether it is just or not, viewers are left with the impression he was something of an exploiter, but that gives 10 Years an edge and a point-of-view. As a result, it is hard to dismiss the film as a mere “DVD extra.”

As a sobering look behind the scenes of the Brazilian film industry, 10 Years demonstrates how good intentions can sometimes lead to unrealistic expectations. Even so, there is no question it will resonate more deeply with viewers who have substantially invested in the franchise. Surprisingly pointed but still not essential for general audiences, City of God—10 Years Later screens this coming Wednesday (6/4) and Friday (6/6) as part of this year’s Brazilian Film Festival in New York at the Tribeca Cinemas.