City of freedom where the children could play happily

City of God directed by Fernando Meirelles
and Katia Lund, uses every aspect of filmmaking and uses it to its advantage,
by managing to submerge the viewer into the reality of City of God. Mise-en-scene
is used heavily to show two different eras of Brazil in the City of God. It Is
used to show how crime and drugs has changed the quality of life in the favela.

It was once a place of freedom where the children could play happily and
safely, but it soon changed as drugs and crime began to take over and tear the
City of God apart. Props are used to influence the genre of the film using
iconography, lighting and colour are used massively to show the change in eras,
settings are used to submerge the viewer into the City of God, and framing is
used to draw attention to certain characters and their emotion/personality.

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In the opening scene the first thing that we
are shown is a sharp knife, this instantly introduces the genre of crime, using
iconography to show the audience that there is going to be violence or crime,
as we are straight away shown a knife. The knife is being sharpened on a
counter top and is shown many times and we an audience see a knife as an
everyday object so can see that the theme this knife represents (violence) is
going to be an everyday aspect in this film.


Lighting and colour is a massive part of every
film, but in City of God it is used to influence the change of environment and
quality of life in the favela. In the sixties era of the film, there is a calming
golden tint to every shot, to emphasize the openness and freedom that the
people of the favela had in the sixties. And to represent the hope and innocence
of these children, whose dreams are to escape the favela and live successful
happy lives. Bordwell once said “A change in settings’ colour supports a
narrative development” (Bordwell, 2017) and in City of God we can see this
massively. As times get tougher and crime starts to take over the favela, we
stat to see a cold blue tint to the film, this indicates the difficulty that
the people of the favela face, and the struggle to get out. It also shows that
the youths of the favela are finally realizing their fate, realizing that they
are stuck in the drug stricken favela. The change in mood is most noticeable when
the camera pans around Rocket and goes back in time, changing from a packed,
cold frame, to a golden, empty wide frame in a matter of seconds.


Cinematography works with the lighting to
also show the change in the two eras. Not only is it used to represent the
differences in quality of life from the two eras, but it also used to show how
easy it is to get caught up in it all. As we see in the opening scene Rocket
finds himself caught in the middle, forcing him to chose the law or the
criminals. Bordwell says “Filmmakers often place a single figure at the center
of the frame and minimize distracting elements on the sides”(Bordwell, 2017,
p.143) Rocket is in the middle of the police and the criminals, two groups of
people that represent danger, showing that Rocket and the people of the favela
can be easily caught up in the everyday warfare in Brazil. In the sixties era
of City of God, we see many wide angle empty frames, that show the freedom the
people of the favela had. They had room to move, they had hope and they had the
ability to live free and be happy, even if they were poverty stricken. However,
when times start getting harder, and crime is creeping up on the slums, the
angles get a lot tighter and the frames become packed. This shows how it was
near on impossible to escape the favela. In an interview Meirelles said “In
City of God what I really tried to do was put the camera in the other side” (Meirelles,
2010). So he was really trying his best to submerge the viewer into the favela.

 When the favela is a safe place to live
with little crime, the camera moves about freely then there is a drastic change
when Lil Ze starts to rise to power, the camera becomes static and the framing
and angles change, using much more close ups and packed frames to give the feel
of how claustrophobic it was in the slums of Brazil. Also Lil Ze and his gang
are mostly shot from very low angles, giving him power and making him look a
lot more powerful than the other residents of the favela. As well as being shot
from a low angle, Lil Ze is mostly shot off center, this could be said to
represent his off the rails attitude to show that he is reckless and out of
control. As the film goes on more angles start to be shot from the point of view
of Rocket who is also the narrator of the film, this really helps submerge the
audience to sensing the reality of life in the City of God.


Props are used to create iconography
throughout City of God. In the opening scenes we are straight away introduced
to the theme of violence with the first thing shown being a knife. The knife is
quickly intercut and straight away gives the audience an idea of exhilarating
crime. We are also introduced t Lil Ze waving a gun around aimlessly in the
opening scenes, this shows the significance of weapons in the film. Guns cause
the rise and downfall of many characters in City of God so by introducing them
early on, Meirelles is setting a theme at the very start of the film. Weapons
are very important in the film as they push forward the narrative, Lil Ze’s
development as a character comes from the use of weapons, as he kills many
people and is inevitably killed by a gun at the end of a film. So it is
interesting to see that a prop that is used to develop Lil Ze as a character
and push his narrative forward, is then used to end his life and to end his
journey as a character. Another very important prop in City of God is Rockets
camera. It becomes an icon of hope and success. It is Rockets key to escaping
the danger and crime of the favela. In the opening sequence we see Rocket
behind bars with his camera, so as the film goes on we can see that Rocket uses
his camera to escape past the bars, or in this case past the favela. He uses
the camera to gain recognition and respect of his fellow residents, by taking
pictures of the violent events that take place. Talking more about iconography with
props, it could be said that the chicken at the start of the film is used to
represent the struggle to escape the favela by the Brazilian people. The chicken
is trying to escape and is struggling to do so, in a fast paced scene we see
the chicken running for its life through the favela, which the people of the
favela could also be doing. They are also trying to escape. The favela was a
horrible place to live and the number of people living there was increasing
everyday as more people were slipping into the slums. In the sixties where we
are shown a soft warm living space, only 150,000 people lived in the favela,
however in the eighties where we are shown a cold busy living space, 600,000
people lived there, so the increase in residents was real and it was happening
so fast. We also see the change in costumes throughout the film as Lil Ze rises
to power. At the start he is clothed like most people in the favela, however as
he gains more success he is seen with more jewelry and some more expensive
clothes, as well as carrying mass amounts of weapons wherever he and his gang go.


magnified, distanced or distorted by the camera’s positioning, and further modified
during editing, the performance of film actors signifies not less than – but
differently from – that of their theatre counterparts.” (Dix, 2008, p. 20) The actor’s
performances in City of God are very realistic. The reason they are realistic
is to give the audience a feel of realism when watching this film. Meirelles really wanted to submerge the audience into the favela
life and he did this in a number of ways, and one of these ways was by making
the performances by the actors very realistic. We can get a feel for just how
real the acting was by looking at an interview with Meirelles in 2014, when
asked if it was difficult so direct so many young professionals he said, “No, it was easy to work with them because they
were so enthusiastic about doing the film. They liked being respected and for
people to listen to them and to applaud them. We auditioned 2000 kids from poor
areas and chose 200. We spent six months working on improvising scenes. They
ended up creating about 70% of the dialogue. They were so keen that they used
to arrive at work an hour before shooting started.” So the fact the the actors
were from the favela originally and the fact that 70% of the dialogue was
improvisation by them, just shows how real it actually was. Meirelles set out to achieve a sense of realism and he did this by
hiring non-professionals who made the film real.


To conclude, mise-en-scene is central in all
films and is used massively to push the narrative forward. Many different
aspects if the mise-en-scene are used for many different things. A once free
place was shown by golden tint and open shots, but with Lil Ze’s rise to power
we began to see cold packed shots. It is also showed by the tight framing and
the use of props to instigate violence at an early stage in the film. We also
see the chicken used to show how hard it is to escape the favela, Meirelles
uses lots of iconography to provide a feel of realism to this film. the growing
population of the favela is shown by the packed frames and the angles become a
lot closer, to submerge the audience into a feeling of claustrophobia, how it
was for the people of the favela. By casting non-professionals that live in the
favela, Meirelles creates an enormous sense of realism, he even said himself
that most of the acting was improvisation. We also see the use of props and
costumes to develop Lil Ze’s character, and the camera used as a key for Rocket
to escape the favela and gain recognition for his work. Mise-en-scene is
essential for pushing the narrative forward and in City of God we see it do
that in many different ways. Meirelles has managed to shape the viewers
experience in a very realistic manner. He really manages to show the harsh
reality of life in the favela, showing the extreme change between an area of
petty crime to an area of extreme crime, using lighting, colour, props,
cinematography, costumes, framing, settings, casting and performances.