The Blu-ray of City of God is Region B encoded and uses an AVC transfer framed at 1.78:1 which is opened out slightly from the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. At first sight the picture appears to be excellent, with a clean transfer, accurate colours and very deep blacks. However you quickly start to realise that the film looks too good and there is in fact almost no grain visible, even in scenes set at night. This doesn’t seem right as the film was largely shot on location using a combination of Super 35 and Super 16 film stock, so one would expect to see a degree of film grain especially during scenes shot at night. Someone has clearly been at the noise reduction algorithms and all the film grain has been smoothed away along with some high resolution detail. This is especially true with close-ups of faces because whilst the majority of the cast might be young, it is unlikely that their skins are quite that free of blemishes. This excessive digital scrubbing is a shame because it makes the film look quite glossy and thus robs it of some of its raw power. The removal of grain aside, the rest of the transfer is top notch and perfectly reproduces Fernando Meirelles’s stylised colour scheme, energetic camera work and kinetic editing. The blacks are also deep with plenty of shadow detail and the picture is free from banding and compression artefacts. In fact the print is clean and sharp and would be worthy of a much higher score if the transfer had retained more of the gritty realism that the filmmakers were striving for.
Whilst there might be some controversy surround the picture there are no such worries in the sound department. The Blu-ray of City of God is encoded with a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack which is in Brazilian Portuguese of course but with English subtitles. This is a wonderfully aggressive soundtrack that completely immerses you in the world of the favelas, capturing a genuine sense of realism. The sounds of the streets come from all directions and during the shootouts you almost find yourself ducking for cover. Amid all the audio pyrotechnics the dialogue remains firmly fixed on the centre speaker and the samba influence score is perfectly integrated into the action. This is a wonderfully visceral soundtrack that really enhances the dynamic images on screen.
There aren’t very many extras on the Blu-ray and what there are are in standard definition and ported over from the previous DVD release but the documentary News from a Personal War is excellent and makes a perfect companion piece to the film itself.
- News From A Personal War (SD, 56:40) - This is a fascinating documentary covering the history of the drug wars in the favelas over the previous thirty years but with particular emphasis on the period 1997 to 1998. It was co-directed by Katia Lund who went on to co-direct City of God and was clearly an inspiration for making the film in the same way that original novel was. In fact Paulo Lins is interviewed in the documentary, recounting stories from his novel that would later be recreated in the film. The footage shot in the favelas is genuinely harrowing and you feel helpless as you watch the ghastly toll that this seemingly unending war has taken. One of the most terrifying pieces of footage shows a group of women following a young man in police custody because they know if the let him out of their sight the police will execute him. There are interviews with all those concerned including the criminals and the policemen and the innocent inhabitants who are caught in their crossfire. There are also interviews with politicians and the media but by far the most interesting person is the Chief of Police whose incredibly candid comments show a man who has had enough of the hypocrisy and death that surrounds him. He clearly understands the futility of the war on drugs, is sickened by the corruption of the police, the callousness of the politicians, the uselessness of the church and the violence of the gangs - it’s no surprise he resigned soon after the film was made.
- A Conversation With Fernando Meirelles (SD, 10:28) - This relatively brief interview with the co-director where he discusses Paulo Lins original novel and the inspiration for the character of Rocket. He also discusses the casting of the film and the way they used improvisation to get realistic performances out of their young actors. He also discusses his intended colour scheme for the film as well as the difficulties of shooting in the favelas, although not in the actual City of God because that was considered too dangerous.
If you haven’t seen City of God then you owe it to yourself to watch it because it is a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking. The story moves effortlessly from exciting to entertaining to harrowing but it never loses touch with its overall message. The performances from a largely inexperienced cast are a revelation and the direction, cinematography and editing are brimming with imagination and style. The Blu-ray captures this energy both visually and aurally with a clean transfer and an aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The only downside to the picture is the use of excessive DNR to reduce grain and thus rob City of God of some of its gritty realism. The extras are ported over from the DVD release and whilst limited, they include an interesting documentary that provides some background to the film itself. In an age when so many directors think that shaking the camera and cutting fast are effective ways of creating energy and excitement, this film reminds you of what that really looks like. Perhaps if someone forced Michael Bay to watch City of God, we might actually be spared another of his incoherent and fit inducing pictures.
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