Saturday, 23 November 2013

World Cinema: Messages and Values in City of God and La Haine




World cinema films often convey profound messages about the worlds they represent. Often world cinema films will not reach a wider audience than within their own country of origins but others will cross over and thanks to film festivals and often big American distributors (like for example Miramax) will achieve international recognition. These films may sacrifice some of their important social and political messages in order to appeal to a wider and more globalised mass market. City of God and La Haine both maintain strong messages while gaining large audiences across the world and many of these messages are similar across both films.


In both City of God and La Haine, the poorer members of society are segregated from the rich and appear excluded from wealthier parts of the country. In La Haine the message is that the poor ethnic youth of les banlieues feel excluded and hated by the rest of society and they therefore riot every night as an expression of their rage against the society that marginalises them. City of God offers in a similar way many of the same problems. The mostly black inhabitants of the favelas are crammed together in their slums, moved away from the ‘civilised’ cities and the drugs and guns are allowed to proliferate with little interference from the corrupt police. Both in La Haine and City of God, the youths rarely appear to have jobs. Even when Rocket gets a job in a supermarket, he loses it because of his association to the favela and its ‘runts’. Hubert in La Haine only finds money from drug dealing and similarly in City of God, the drug dealers are the ones with the most money, power and best clothes. The youths of both films rarely leave the places they live and when they do the contrast is stark. City of God shows a wide open plan newspaper office and apartment with hot running water in comparison to its crowded, cramped, dirty and dangerous slums whereas La Haine offers a tasteful art gallery where guests are offered champagne and called ‘sir’ in comparison to les banlieues that are grey, crowded and covered in graffiti. In both films the lower class (and often from ethnic minorities) appear excluded and cut off from the wealthier areas of the country and therefore find it harder to find legal employment and safety.


Another message that both films share is that there is a cycle of violence that will continue to go on and on in poor areas if the cycle is never broken. Both films start and end with violence and feature seemingly good, honest and decent men dragged down into violence and despair. La Haine takes its title from its message as stated by Hubert; ‘Hate breeds hate’. At the start of the film it is revealed that a young man has been beaten by the police so badly that he is in a coma. Vinz wants revenge on the police, as many of the other youths in les banlieues do. The police hate the youths for rioting and being violent and the youths hate the police for trying to oppress them and for their own violence. The cycle is destined to repeat forever if somebody does not break it. Similarly in City of God the violence escalates between Carrot and Lil Ze’s rival gangs because members of the gangs continue to kill each other and more and more people get dragged into the gang warfare due to wanting revenge. When Lil Ze is finally killed by the runts (who he gave guns to), it appears they are to be the next generation that will stalk the favelas looking for people to kill and therefore gain more power. The tragedy of both films is that Knockout Ned (who at first refuses to kill) and Hubert (who wants kids to take out their anger on punching bags rather than the police) both end in positions where they feel they have to fight and kill.


A message that comes out to varying degrees in both City of God and La Haine is that the government, police and other institutions are inherently racist, classist and corrupt in many countries around the world. It ties into the earlier message that poor people are ‘swept under the rug’ in these areas where they can almost be forgotten about. The favelas and les banlieues are places where those who have no jobs and have often come from poorer countries can be shoved at a minimum cost to the government and kept out of the sight and minds of the wealthy. The police in both films are also represented as corrupt and racist. In La Haine they have beaten a young Arab man to death in their custody (and this was based on a true story) and later Said and Hubert are taken and tortured by some cops who are ‘training’ a younger officer in the ways to get away with abusing those in their custody without getting caught. In City of God, the police are seen shooting innocent favela dwellers, selling guns to gangs and taking money from dealers. The films seem to say that if the police are not trustworthy and good, then why would the people obey or respect them.


In both City of God and La Haine, the media is seen to play a vital part in perpetuating stereotypes about poor ethnic youths. People in wealthier parts of the country are rarely represented and all they probably often know about the favelas and les banlieues is what they pick up from the newspapers and the television news. La Haine starts with real footage of the riots and the media are constantly relaying the tale of Abdel, the young man beaten up by the police. The media harass the youths when they are minding their own business and try to get them to talk about the riots which they assume they were in. Similarly in City of God, Rocket gets a job at the newspaper because he gets photos of the violent gangster Lil Ze. The journalists are delighted to get a photo of Lil Ze and his gang, guns drawn and looking mean. This image of poorer areas is what sells and what perpetuates stereotypes about young ethnic minority youths. A counter argument is that the media help people to see the injustice and inequality that are rife in their own countries, in these cases, Brazil and France.


There are on the other hand a couple of messages that the two films do not share. In City of God it appears as though hard work, decency and honesty can be rewarded whereas La Haine has a more pessimistic view. Rocket in City of God ends the film with an escape from his life and the favelas. He does not choose guns, drugs, violence and hate and instead gets a job as a photographer suggesting that there may be hope for those who try to stay honest and hardworking. On the other hand in La Haine Hubert who worked so hard to start a gym sees it burnt down by the people he created it for and finally ends the film pointing a gun at a police officer.There is little hope for the youths in La Haine no matter what they do and how hard they try.


Another difference is the representation of drug use and drug dealing in the films. In City of God, cocaine particularly seems to bea cause of major problems in the favelas. In both films, marijuana is smoked and dealt with little problems. In fact Hubert deals to get money for his family and Rocket buys drugs to help him get a girlfriend. However in City of God the introduction of cocaine seems to bring bigger problems like Tiago’s addiction and an increase in gang warfare and the proliferation of guns.

In conclusion, City of God and La Haine share many of the same messages. They are both set in similar worlds and depict poverty and conflict. They revolve around the clash of cultures between the poor and the police and the warfare between gangs. While they are both made by middle class white filmmakers, they both dig beneath stereotypes and attempt to challenge some purely negative representations of poor ethnic minority youths. City of God and La Haine both have powerful messages to convey but City of God has a more mainstream approach by having a somewhat optimistic ending (at least for main character Rocket) whereas La Haine leaves its ending bleak and wide open and ensures that the audience is forced to think about its messages for a long time to come.

More A2 exam answers:

Analysing La Haine

World Cinema: Distinctive Visual Features

World Cinema: Social and Political Context

WJEC A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B

A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B 




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