Before the film even starts it is made abundantly clear that City of God is a transnational film via the use of its opening credit sequence. Not only are there are a multitude of production companies and distributors attached to the film, but probably more pertinent is the fact that the first to be highlighted is that of Miramax Films – a ‘North’ American founded company. This association with ‘North’ America early on is an obvious allusion to the fact that the film is transnational.
However for the viewer to be sure of this the other production companies, BR Representa and Lei Do Audiovisual – both Brazilian, follow Miramax Films in this opening credit sequence. This type of opening is synonymous with transnational cinema as it lets the viewer know exactly what to expect without the film even starting yet. It is through this that the audience know how to watch the film and critically engage it. Brazilians watching are made aware that the intent of the film-makers is to appeal to other nations as well as their own.
The construction of the opening of a national film differs only slightly from that of transnational cinema in that any and all production companies shown in the opening will only be from that nation. A fine example of this minimal difference is in the opening to the American film, Robocop where both Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Orion Pictures marquee. Prior to fade in the audience is made conscious of the fact that this film may only deal with moral and political issues with particular regard to America.
The function of this is to ensure that any decisive engagement from anyone is carefully considered, especially by those who do not live in America. The film is regarded as one of the finest American political satires in history but without this early sign that the film and its issues strictly represent American culture this satire may not have been picked up on. Upon fade in of City of God our senses are bombarded by flashy imagery and the intense jump between diegetic and non-diegetic ‘Brazilian’ sound, interspersed with the repetition of a knife slicing and dicing and the jerky head movements of a chicken.
Obviously this film is adopting aspects of American cinema and it’s no surprise that it’s in the form MTV style editing due to the fact that Katia Lund, an American who produced Michael Jackson’s favela-based music video for his hit “They Don’t Care About Us” co-directed City of God. Jackson sought to create spectacle via the use of the favela people in his video. The opening of City of God also adopts this approach via the use of realism anning and zooming, intercutting between extreme close ups of Lil’ Dice / Lil’ Ze and the medium-long shots of the chicken as it attempts to evade the gang. It is this overly fantastical spectacle of a chicken being chased coupled with the vibrant sound of the favela that undoubtedly furthers the notion that this is a transnational film as it lends techniques from both North and South America. It is often said for something to be one thing it has to be different than another. In this case it is the poignant contrast between transnational and national cinema.
Again an example of this variation can be illustrated by way of Robocop. Establishment is the premise at the beginning of Robocop and is generally the thesis at the open of all national cinema as it allows setting and theme to be ascertained early by the viewer. As the title card appears the helicopter shot of Detroit is the backdrop, providing clarity to the viewer. During the news report on Pretoria, South Africa it is prevalent that the report is from and American perspective.
The commercials that follow compound this further as it is obvious the intended audience is the American citizen sitting at home. This is not only an excellent highlight of the disparity between Robocop and City of God but the distinction of the techniques used in national and transnational cinema. The language used in a film is a huge determinant of whether or not it can be judged as a transnational film or a national film. At first glance one would say that City of God was a film of national cinema but on closer inspection it becomes questionable.
Yes, the language spoken in the film is unquestionably Portuguese, which Brazilians speak, but what’s interesting is that the characters names seem to be formed as a result of the incorporation of a non-Brazilian culture. Character names like Shaggy, Lil’ Dice / Lil’ Ze, Rocket and Knockout Ned seem like they belong in Pulp Fiction or another Quentin Tarantino film. It’s this sentiment that the characters names seem slightly unbefitting that many say the film couldn’t possibly be a national film if it’s adopting techniques and conventions from other films in different nations.
Culture and identity is at the forefront of national cinema and City of God is often accused of betraying national identity to create a transnational film that will keep those from other countries interested. One of the main ways in which co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund ‘betray’ national identity is through the use of music. Leading up to Benny’s death the use of music is important to acknowledge due to the fact that there are more internationally recognizable songs in the film than nationally familiar songs.
This is suggestive that Meirelles and Lund both knew it would have a considerable impact on profitability post cinematic release via the sale of a soundtrack. Not only were two commercially successful songs used in this sequence but two instantly identifiable hits by Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” and James Brown’s “Sex Machine” respectively. National cinema whereas would not choose songs from foreign culture to boost profitability but rather hire a musician to compose a score for that film specifically as opposed to borrowing songs from a different country.
For instance in the film Jaws, John Williams was hired to compose a score that fits the tone and theme of the movie itself. This resulted in the famous heart-pounding theme tune we have in our heads when we think of sharks and water. However despite being accused of abandoning national identity it is important to note that City of God was filmed on location in Rio de Janeiro using mainly actors and actresses from Brazil. This is an important point of notice as this is usually only characteristic of a national film.
An example of this would be the British national film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. This is another example of the borrowing of techniques and principles of film-making that help to create a truly transnational feel. Transnational cinema also has a tendency to neglect tone to an extent as sometimes stylistic aesthetically pleasing direction supersedes the tone. This is evident in City of God as both co-directors will favour beauty over tone repeatedly.
In the scene with Rocket and Angelica on the beach the directors choose to highlight Angelica’s beauty, and in a metaphorical sense the beauty of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro itself over the seriousness of Rocket’s first meeting with the runts. Throughout the film both directors choose to show both sides of Brazil as exotic and dangerous instead of keeping a consistent tone, use of lighting and music etc. Meirelles and Lund use a similar approach to a documentary throughout the film with an intrinsic use of realist shots and camera movement to highlight that what we as an audience are watching is a representation of Brazil.
It is this quasi-documentary approach taken by both directors in unison with frenetically edited jump cuts, flashbacks, slow-motion shots and rapid colour transitions that give the film its intended sleek feel. However it is because of these same combinations that the film could never be regarded as a national film and must be referred to as nothing but transnational. Bibliography Crofts, Stephen, “Concepts of National Cinema”, in Hill and Church Gibson, The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, pp. 385-94 Hjort, Mette and Scott McKenzie eds. Cinema and Nation. London: Routledge, 2000.