Wednesday, November 9, 2011

City of God: All Style, No Substance

Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cast: Indrajith, Parvathy, Prithviraj, Rima Kallingal, Shwetha Menon
Year: 2011

City of God is an admirable effort from director Lijo Jose Pellissery. It is obviously an honest effort at making good cinema, which makes it all the more difficult for me to criticize it.

While watching this movie, I kept feeling a sense of deja vu. It's the non-linear narration that gave me that feeling. It's a style that's in vogue in international art house cinema. I like non-linear narration -- if and when it is necessary to the story. And when it adds a new dimension to the movie. For example, the movie Memento is narrated in reverse and it gives an entirely different perspective than you would've had if it had followed a forward, linear timeline. The reverse narration is essential to that movie. Without it you won't get the climactic punch.

The non-linear narration is a mere distraction in City of God.

There are multiple plot lines that intersect throughout the movie. Scenes are repeated and shown from the perspective of each participating character. In fact almost every single scene is shown from two or three different perspectives. That becomes tedious and boring real quick. Without this repetition the movie would've been real short. After watching the whole movie, you get the feeling that you just watched a short film many times.

Another major weakness of the movie is the story of the Tamil workers. Their story has no connection with the rest of the movie other than some accidental run-ins with the other characters. If the other stories had also been separate from each other, it would've been okay. But only the Tamil story stands apart. The filmmakers try to weave their story into the mix by showing the Tamilians in the same scene as the others, but it doesn't work. The love story, especially the love scene between Indrajith and Parvathy, were great. It is rare that you see an honest love scene in a Malayalam movie.

If the director wanted us to empathize with the Tamil characters, he should've hired a real Tamilian to help write the dialogues. And he should have cast real Tamilians in those roles. Instead we have a mostly all-Malayali cast talking and acting like stereotypical characters from Tamil movies. Especially Indrajith and Rohini. I am not criticizing the actors, because they both did an outstanding job. But the director could've made those characters more authentic and thus easier to empathize with (not sympathize).

Despite the negatives that I pointed out, I found City of God to be very entertaining. The unusual narrative style adds a coolness factor, making the movie seem young and hip.

An unexpected bonus of the movie was the actor Rajeev Pillai, who apparently is a successful Mumbai-based model. He is very attractive -- in a manly way, not the boyish looks of Prithviraj. He is also a decent actor. I hope he appears in more Malayalam movies in the future and that he works on improving his acting skills. 

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