City of God is a depicts the reality of the narrator’s life growing up in the slums on the outskirts of Rio. What was meant to be a small film project became a success in many ways. Although it quickly became an international sensation winning numerous awards the filmmakers were also successful with their use of various components of cinematography. One critic said that “City of God is a wildly entertaining film. The sheer energy of the movie is never less than compelling. Meirelles pulls out every filmmaking trick in the book, utilizing freeze-frames, montage, flashback, quick-cutting, and even strobe lights” (Millikan 1).
I will analyze various scenes from the film and explain how each successfully applied film techniques. “The techniques that I will elaborate on include lighting, shots and angles, editing and a few principles of film form. The cinematographer primarily used a realistic lighting design throughout the film. The outside scenes appeared to only use either the sun light or the moon light. The inside scenes appeared to utilize only the practical lighting sources which were visible either from the ceiling, lamp or windows.
If there were any key lights used for exposure they went unnoticed because everything looked so realistic. The filmmakers took advantage of extreme low key lighting because they were so dark that it appeared that they were being filmed with a home video camera. A majority of the movie was very dark but lighting was used to distinguish time and the narrator’s perception of life during that period Lighting can be used to convey emotion and it was apparent that Rocket felt fondly of his early childhood. When he flashed back to life as a young boy the scenes were very colorful and hard, high contrast lighting was used.
There was also much more laughter and humor during this period. As Rocket aged his life became difficult and gangs became more prevalent to him. He began to see what life was really like and knew that he’d be in for struggles ahead. Much different from his childhood scenes, colors were less saturated and low key, low contrast lighting was used during this period. Even when Rocket tells the story of Blacky’s apartment there is a noticeable difference in the set’s lighting. As he begins with the story of Dona Zelia, the apartment was well lit with lamps and lights.
Although she lived in the slums, the apartment was neat for her standards. As years went by and the apartment changed hands it had seen many shady characters and the lighting became dimmer as the apartment became uninhabitable. One interesting scene which shows great use of available lighting to accentuate emotion occurs right before Rocket is asked to capture the chicken. As Lil Ze and his gang turn the corner to enter the street where Rocket and his friend are walking Rocket spots him and becomes petrified with fear.
Just as Lil Ze turned the corner a medium close up shot captured his image. A ray of sun light glared on Lil Ze’s face making it more prevalent also, the sun’s ray glistened on his gun making if a focal point against the street’s low key lighting. That is also an example of using high contrast to heighten drama. I’m not sure how many takes were required to create this effect but it definitely added in adding to the Rocket’s emotion of fear. Another interesting lighting aspect of this movie was when everyone was at the club celebrating Benny’s going away party.
Strobe lights were the filmmaker’s visible effect lighting choice. The lights flashed wildly as the scene opened to show the crowd’s emotion. Everyone celebrated and danced about as they enjoyed themselves. The lights then slowed down a bit and the so did the music. It was at that point that Lil Ze was turned down by a girl when he asked her to dance. This helped humanize him because throughout a majority of the film he appeared to be not of this earth and demonic. The strobe lights were definitely multifunctional in adding to the scenes emotional but also caused some discontinuity.
When the club’s lights went down and only white strobe lights flashing there comes some discontinuity. The lights flash so rampantly that no one could see what was going on or where Benny was when someone screamed that he’d been shot. It’s as if he was lost in the crowd somewhere. The filmmakers were also successful in telling Rocket’s story by choosing some very interesting shots and angles to shoot from. The movie’s opening scene was very intense and the cinematographer amped up the intensity by using some very short close up shots of varying events.
The viewer is taken to a celebration and the montage of shots included glimpses of a knife being sharpened, a chicken being cleaned, food preparation and samba song and dance. Each colorful event moves to the same rhythm but the most the recurring scene was that of the knife sharpening. Its screeching sound only adds to the film’s motif of danger and mayhem. Also, one would never expect to see a chicken being plucked and peeled to a backdrop of samba but this film plays on the music’s energy. Although some of these scenes were more unsavory than others, the movie still kept viewer’s attention for what was to come.
A novel choice of shots and angles added to the films value. In the scene where Rocket was stuck in the middle of the gang and the police, it was interesting to see how they chose to use a wide shot to capture the gang’s strength in numbers but a long wide shot was used when show how few police there were. The gang looked so powerful and brut as they stood tall and brave with their chests stuck out and guns cocked. The shot and angle used to capture the police walking down the street made them look like a weakling hand full of clowns who had no power although they were the authority.
They were simply no competition for the gang. Even if the scene was completely silent and Lil Ze weren’t talking trash any on looker could understand why the police cowardly ran away. The angles that added value were the 180 degree which transitioned into a 360 degree angle shot as it captured Rocket standing in the middle of the street between the two groups looking like a plucked chicken. It was interesting to see how the shots moved fast and then froze, giving us an idea of what was in Rocket’s mind. He was trying to determine which way he should run and as he checked out his surroundings for some idea.
The shots then spiraled around him, warping him back to his childhood as if it he was being transported out of harm’s way. The filmmakers did a great job at sticking to the principles of film form and ensuring that all elements of the film were related. Each scene supported the other in some way to become what I consider a gangster movie with a twist. Some elements of the movie were multifunctional for example the brats served as a nuisance to Lil Ze as they wrecked havoc in the city to his disliking. He later used them to retaliate against Carrot when the chips were down.
To his dismay they were also his assassins as they killed him the same way that he killed Rocket’s brother. Another example of function is the case of Benny. He was not only a drug dealer but also Lil Ze’s right hand man whom was more like a brother to him. Benny’s responsibility was to keep his friend grounded. Unlike Lil Ze, Benny was a “smart, good-hearted gangster with a hippie sensibility who eventually decides to abandon the criminal life” (Holden1). It was obvious how much Lil Ze truly needed Benny after he was killed. Lil Ze spiraled out of control, becoming even more aggressive and taking his anger out on any and everyone.
Another interesting element of this film was its narrative structure. The story was told with its end at the beginning. It was fitting for the story since none of its events were of the norm for American standards. The story line would be considered repetitious since we later saw those same scenes at the movie’s end. The difference is that initially we are only given bits of the movies’ end and later the filmmakers fill in the blanks giving us the entire run down of the scenes The movies motif was danger and low key lighting was used to convey this throughout a majority of the film.
The lighting also gave the film a desolate hopeless feeling which was be fueled by the gang’s violence. Another example of repletion was that Lil Ze could never remember Rocket’s name. Even when he told Rocket to catch that chicken he didn’t use his name he simply said “Hey kid! Get that chicken! ” Rocket was the same guy who put the smile on Lil Ze’s face by making him famous with that photo but he never respected him enough to know his name. There were numerous differences throughout the film. An example of which is the formal opposition that Lil Ze had with Knockout Ned.
They were polar opposites. Ned was a tall handsome fellow who had no problem getting ladies and Lil Ze was a short unattractive rogue who couldn’t even get a dance at the club. Another difference was that of Lil Ze and Carrot. Although they were both drug dealers, Carrot didn’t feel like he had to be violent or have a tight reign over his territory to get respect. Lil Ze felt as if he always had something to prove and ran his territory like a general. Their differences may have been the reason why Lil Ze wanted Carrot dead. There were various developments throughout the film.
The movie itself was about the journey of a young boy that seeks his one big shot to land his dream job and he gets his manhood along the way. The other story line of this film is that of Lil Dice a young rascal who dreams of being a gang leader and becoming rich one day living the drug life. Lil Ze becomes the film’s antagonist and as his dreams come true he becomes the ruthless gangster Lil Ze going so far as changing his name to solidify his maturation. There wasn’t much discontinuity in this film but I thought it odd that Angelica was last seen at the going away party and there is no mention of her at the end of the film.
Since Rocket was so fond of her I thought that he would have spoken of her again. This film was also successful in its editing. I’m not sure whether it was the choice of the director or the editor but one of the more interesting time lines depicted was that of Blacky’s apartment. The camera remained in a singular position, like a fly on the wall as it captured the apartment’s transition over the years. The editor opted to use a dissolve as the film showed previous inhabitants of the apartment. They faded in and out of the scene; the apartment’s demise was also as evident as some of its inhabitants.
There was even a point when Carrot was crouched over the coffee table and the scene dissolved his profile so quickly so quickly that there was only a translucent image of him which actually sat. After he was seated his profile became opaque and life like again. I do agree with one film critic about his perception of the movie. He said that: “Combining a highly relevant sociopolitical statement with a filmmaking style that is alive with energy and daring, City of God is destined to become a modern classic. It is, quite simply, one of the most brilliant movies of this or any other year. (Millikan 1) I’m sure that it is already a cult classic in Brazil as Goodfellas is in America. It has been my favorite film of choice seen I saw it first. I just never thought about editing, directing, cinematography and other elements which made it what it is. I must say that I can truly better understand film making now. Bibliography Millikan, Jay. “City of God. ” Stylus Magazine. Stylus, 1 Sept 2003: 1. Web. 9 Jul 2010. . (Millikan 1) Holden, Stephen. “City of God, 2002 FILM REVIEW; Boys Soldiering in an Army of Crime. ” The New York Times. NYT, 17 Jan. 2003. Web. 9 July 2010. .