Sonia Cristina Lino

In the first sequence of the Brazilian movie City of God (2002), with pagode1 music in the background, we see slums and a group of people in a party mood getting ready to cook a few chickens. With vibrant images and rhythm, the audience is introduced to this situation from the perspective of one of the chickens that is waiting to be cooked. Held by the foot, the chicken watches as another chicken is killed and plucked. The visible anxiety of the animal is underlined by the fast editing and the pagode rhythm, which gets increasingly faster, reminding us of a music video. Suddenly, the chicken escapes. Running through the narrow streets of the slums, it avoids the traffic and the people chasing it, young men carrying knives and firearms, yelling angrily because of the instinctive rebellion of the animal. They are the organizers of the party, and are immediately identified by the Brazilian public as the drug barons of the slums, who, in that precise moment, see their power defied by a chicken.

Managing to alter momentarily the fate that awaits it, the chicken is suddenly stranded between its hunters and a young black man with a frightened expression who is carrying a camera. He is the narrator of the story, nicknamed Rocket, and he has, in his own turn, the police chasing him. The police aim their guns at the drug dealers and vice versa. Between them are the chicken and Rocket. The scene is freeze framed and, in a flashback, Rocket starts to tell the story that will explain this moment in his life, starting with the history of the City of God [Cidade de Deus] slums where he was born. The same sequence is shown at the end of the movie, followed by the outcome of the story.

This initial sequence synthesizes the feelings of Rocket and of the other young inhabitants of the slums who are introduced by him: young people as scared as chickens, amid armed hunters and/or famished people, legal or illegal, that threaten each other's lives to hold on to power and assure survival for a little longer. Just as the runaway chicken gains another chance for survival, so Rocket finds his momentary "escape" in photography.

I analyze here how this movie introduces the survival strategies and life perspectives of the poor young slum inhabitants, making an analogy with the representations and meanings associated with chickens in Brazilian culture, as well as the cinematic elements used by the director that allow the establishment of such an analogy.

city of cod and the discussions generated by the movie

City of God is based on the 1997 book of the same title, written by Paulo Lins.2 At that time it caused a controversy in the academy, starting a discussion that alternated between its literary value and its political-documentary 3 aspect. Five years later, when the movie was released, the controversy re-emerged and was strengthened by the film's publicity, reaching beyond the academic milieu to the general public. Aesthetic, sociological, and political questions were raised in various analyses of the movie, luring millions of people to the theaters. The public responded promptly to the publicity that urged audiences to see a big-screen representation of the daily violence common in Brazilian cities.

The growing urban violence in Brazil had been approached by the media as a fight between two worlds. On one side, the institutional world, the territory of "normality" and of the law, which regulates the urban and consumer order, whose institutions were being threatened by organized crime. On the other, the city outskirts and slums, inhabited mostly by African Brazilians and/or migrants from the Northeast, spaces of material, educational, and moral poverty.4 However, in the last two decades, the limits of this social-spatial rift have become less defined.

Since the '30s, with the quest for a national cultural identity led by the state, we have seen an "overlapping of spaces"5 from a cultural production standpoint. Throughout recent decades, this overlap reached into cultural consumption patterns because of the development of mass media. At the same time, in an inverse direction, with the strengthening of the globalization process, we can perceive a deepening of social-economical differences. So, while the cultural industry expanded itself horizontally, identifying individuals through their capacity to consume the same goods advertised in the

Violent crime is a way of life for youth in the Rio de Janeiro enclave that is the setting for City of God (2002).

audiovisual media, social and economic differences have grown, making it impossible for most to have access to material goods. If identity through citizenship was not a reality, the search of identity through consumption remained an option.6 However, this option could not be shared by the majority of individuals, who were still economically marginalized.

In the presence of these transformations, a new kind of violence emerged, one that was defined not only by the violent act per se, but also by its motivation. It was a kind of violence used to acquire material and symbolic goods that could assure some identification with the constituted powers, legal or not. The primary characteristic of this new kind of violence was that it became a means to reach social-economical ascension, social recognition, and power. Crimes that had been committed as the last resort for survival and to minimize social inequalities—such as small thefts or con tricks that characterized the ''vagrant life'' of the '50s and '60s described by Antonio Candido and exalted by Roberto DaMatta7 as traits of the Brazilian cultural identity— lost their potency to the crimes of the international drug-dealing market, which did not hesitate to use all resources of physical and moral violence to achieve power.

The beginning of these transformations dates back to the 1970s and 1980s, a time that coincides with the urban reforms in Rio de Janeiro that moved slums from the Southern Zone of the city to regions farther from the city center and the coast. During this removal, Cidade de Deus was created. The movie is thus about the consequences of this removal and the subsequent abandonment of the slums by public authorities, as well as the negligence toward its inhabitants and the growth of violence.

City of God is a well-crafted movie, with an aesthetic that in some moments is similar to a music video and in others reminds us of an action movie. These techniques, however, are used to tell a story that deals with sensitive issues in this moment of Brazilian history, such as misery, urban violence, the lack of social policies, and corruption. It was exactly around these characteristics—a "clean" and realistic aesthetic to deal with "dirty" and taboo issues—that the main controversy generated by the movie revolved. When referring to City of God, professor and movie critic Ivana Bentes8 included it in a list of movies that, according to her, create a "cosmetic of hunger,''9 that is to say, movies that promote a "spectacularization of violence'' through the association of marginalized themes and characters with modern aesthetics and techniques aiming to conquer the international market.10

In terms of its aesthetics and narrative, many voices were raised to support the movie. As an example, I cite an article published by the newspaper Folha de Sâo Paulo, in which the movie critic José Geraldo Couto, without disagreeing with many criticisms of the movie, prefers to underline the "astounding vigor and extreme narrative competence''11 expressed in the script and in the excellent direction of actors, as well as the social importance of the young group of actors that came from the slums and played different roles in the movie. According to the critic, "all these conquests—not to mention the skillful assimilation of advertising and music video techniques with essentially cinematic narrative purposes,'' would be obscured by the adoption of the "cosmetic of hunger'' label.12 To these aesthetic comments were added sociological criticisms that accused the movie of presenting the slums as a violent space enclosed in itself, adding to the stigmatization of its inhabitants. The use of children in scenes that portrayed graphic violence was also criticized.13 As a matter of fact, the director did not make any concession in showing children being co-opted by drug dealers in exchange for money and protection. In one of the most talked-about scenes, we see one of the drug barons, Little Zé, in a ritual of initiation to crime, commanding a child to shoot smaller children because their small thefts were attracting the police to the slums and getting in the way of his business.14

In 2004, when the film was nominated for four Oscars, aesthetic and social-political discussions reemerged in the media. On this occasion, in an open letter published by the site "Viva Favela,''15 author Paulo Lins defended the book and the film, claiming that both were fictional works that allowed for a free interpretation of reality. Besides, he claimed that his responsi bility was to seek the imagination of those who are socially segregated.16 This raises the question of which cinematic choices were made to portray what Lins had called ''the imagination of those who are socially segregated," and I argue that the images of the chicken in Brazilian culture were chosen to portray this imagination.

Chickens have many representations in Brazilian culture. In cookery, the chicken is popularly associated with special occasions or with the ''Sunday lunch"; in the Afro-Brazilian religions, the ''macumba chicken" is offered to spiritual entities in candomble and umbanda ceremonies. Chickens were in fact brought to Brazil by Portuguese settlers. The animal was first mentioned in the Pero Vaz de Caminha Letter,17 sent by the scribe of Pedro Alvarez Cabral's fleet to the king of Portugal, Dom Manual. In this letter, Caminha describes the voyage and the first contact with the people that inhabited the newly discovered land, noting that the Indians were very friendly, although the same could not be said of the first contact between the Native Brazilians and the animals brought by the Portuguese.18 Since then, the chicken has appeared, with different connotations, both in educated and popular language.

Some of the most common derogatory expressions used in Brazilian Portuguese are: galinha morta [dead chicken] — apathetic, cowardly, and weak person; homem or mulher galinha [chicken man or chicken woman] — a person that has affective or sexual relationships with many others at the same time; ladrao de galinha — a swindler that, due to his intellectual and moral incapacity, can't devise great schemes, playing petty tricks on others. We can also find words associated with chicken, such as cacarejar [to cackle]—to talk fast and repetitively; ciscar o assunto [to scratch the theme]—to beat around the bush; chocar [to hatch]—to take long to do something.

There are plenty of negative expressions in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese that use the image of chickens. However, the chicken can also be associated with the idea of work. It is seen as a productive, submissive, and servile animal that remains linked to the home and circulates within the yard since its wings do not allow it to see the world from another perspective. It is the symbol of the ''good worker'' that produces throughout his whole life to fulfill the nutritious or commercial needs of his ''boss,'' and that, when the production comes to an end, becomes food.

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