Set in the urban slums of Rio De Jeneiro and released in 2002, City of God tells the life in a decade of Rocket a youth who strives in the struggle of corrupt police and dangerous gang crime occurring in his area. The plot is mainly viewed from his point of view in the narrative as he is the reliable narrator in the diegesis. The film is of the crime drama genre and was directed by Fernando Meirelles, based on a true story about the events that occurred in what is referred to as “City of God”.
Rocket- The main protagonist of this merciless true life story. Rocket has to struggle to survive in the slums of Rio, a diegesis packed with crime and corruption. The plot is mainly viewed from his point of view making him the reliable narrator. Rocket becomes a photographer chasing the story of his life from a gang war between Lil Ze and Knockout Ned. He wants to escape the diegesis, part of the uses and gratifications and is rewarded by staying clear from crime. His status changes from Rocket to Wilson Rodriguez, a professional photographer.
Lil Ze- Originally Lil Dice, Lil Ze becomes the new crime lord in City of God after eliminating pretty much all the competition apart from the street wise Carrot. He achieves this with his best friend is Benny and he was once a tag along follower of the deadly trio gang. Lil Ze becomes possessed by a key prop in the narrative, the pistol making him murder civilians in a motel for fun due to an urge to kill. He fades to black in the scenery as he exits. After selling his soul pretty much to the devil for power quote, “Will you remain in City of God where God has forgotten you,” says the Shaman or Witch Doctor dice encounters before obtaining his power, he takes over City of God with his best friend Benny. However, Lil Ze is ironically killed by the children he punished mid way in the film for causing trouble who he later had to recruit after the battle with Knockout Ned and Carrot’s thugs. You could regard him as the antagonist.
Benny- Is Lil Ze’s best friend who has been with him since childhood. They take over “City of God” together. However, Benny grows bored of this lifestyle, befriends much of the public and finds true love from Angelica. He redeems himself to the audience and becomes referred to as “The coolest hood in City of God.” He decides to retire as a gangster and leave the diegesis with his girlfriend. He convinces most of the civilians in City of God to attend his leaving party. However he is ironically killed as Karma got back to him giving the audience a key message, “What bad you do will come back to you”.
Knockout Ned- Is the reluctant villain in the narrative and main thug to fear from Carrots gang. Ned was once in the army so he can easily dispatch gangsters with no trouble. Ned wants revenge after Lil Ze kills his family members and rapes his girlfriend out of jealousy.
Carrot- Is the leader of the gang against Lil Ze. Carrot recruits members who want revenge from Ze’s tyranny of leadership in City of God.
Shorty- The grass, snitch or squealer earlier in City of God. “Man buries wife alive in City of God.” He kills his wife because of Rocket’s brother.
THE TENDER TRIO- The old Robin Hood like gang of “City of God” before crime rose dramatically in the area. Consisted of 3 members, Rocket’s older brother and Benny’s older brother were 2 of the members.
Blacky- Once owned Lil Ze’s headquarters but it was taken over. Blacky tries to kill Ze when he is chucked out from the gang but fails and kills Benny instead. He is shot dead by Carrot. “You killed the coolest hood in City of God”, Bang!
Angelica- Rocket’s romantic interest but unfortunately falls in love with Benny who dies.
NARATIVE STRUCTURE AND MACRO ELEMENTS
· There is a constant use of Framing Devices showing text of the subtitle’s of chapters in the narrative. (e.g The Deadly Trio, The Story of LiL Ze, The Sixties)
· The narrative structure is quite irregular and breaks Todorov’s rules, constant disruption is used within the narrative.
· The film is non linear, the opening sequences are repeated at the end where more sequences are added for a clear resolution. The sequences between them are explaining how it got to that point in the narrative.
· There are 2 main binary oppositions. Conflict between the criminals and the police officers who have to pay them off to continue running crime in the area. Another is between LiL Ze’s gang and the Knockout Ned’s allies. There is very little evidence of decency in this film apart from the character Benny. Even the protagonist who the audience would regard as good was tempted to commit crime and use his brother’s gun to do so.
· Police are the villains because they are represented as corrupt, they shoot some of the innocent civilians who are the victims of the plot which we found when one of the deadly trio was walking past them they shot an innocent who ran from fear.
· The takes are rather fast paced showing how the events occur very quickly within narrative. There are lot of jump cuts and montage editing especially in the opening sequence where the prop of knife and chicken are constantly repeatedly shown.
· The back-stories of the setting, characters and events give the audience a quick understanding getting to the point very fast. (E.g In the Chapter, The Story of Lil Ze, nice use of Freeze Frame) (E.g Lil Ze’s drug dealing headquarters which was previously owned by Don Zelia a female drug dealer, then Big boy takes over, Big Boy arrested and dies in prison, Carrot takes over Big Boys operations, Carrot hands down the location to Blacky, Little Ze shows up hostile to take over.)
· The narrative structure explains Rocket’s change from a boy to a man. Partially his biography where he becomes Wilson Rodriguez a true photographer and there is a change of status. (There’s a contrast in the narrative with Lil Ze’s change from small time delinquent to crime-lord.)
· Females portrayed as subordinates in a patriarchal immoral society. It is the males who control the crime in the area. Lil Ze is the local dominant crime lord who is male. All his goons are males.
· Women regarded as lower in authority to men, see this when there is point of view low angle shot of Shorty’s wife who is being bludgeoned by him looking from her perspective when she is unfaithful. (Rocket’s brother flees)
· Males are seen as the ones who perform crime. Lil Ze rapes Knockout Ned’s girlfriend and the gang kill his family members which is the cause of the main binary opposition between LiL Ze’s gang and Knockout Ned’s. (95% of criminal inmates are males.)
· Women seem to be well behaved; they make the men become good. Benny’s girlfriend wants to get him away from the criminal world. One of the deadly trio members falls in love and also tries to escape the diegesis because of his lover but is ironically shot dead in the process.
NOTION OF CINEMATOGRAPHY
· Takes were often short at points in film, especially at opening sequences. They were incredibly fast paced. Quite a few jump cuts were used. (Emphasizing getting to the point fast)
· ECU of faces during important times for showing facial expressions. (LiL Ze screams “Hahaha. Get that Chicken!” fires his prop in air.)
· (ECU)Confrontment with Lil Ze and Benny.
· (Close Ups)When Lil Ze takes over Blacky’s headquarters.
· Close up at Knockout Ned’s head to tilted point of view shot of Knockout Ned watching Lil Ze rape his girlfriend.
· Chicken- At the opening sequence and the resolution sequence, the chicken represents the fact that Rocket would chase the story of his life.
· Film is subbed in English.
· Little Ze centralised in the framing upon a photographic image shot of him and his goons taken by Rocket for the newspaper.
· Freeze Frames used at various points in the film. One as the chapter is opened up for The Story of Little Ze where there is a Framing Device as Chapter introduced. Freeze Frame is at a Big Close up of Lil Ze’s face.
· Use of Sixties soundtracks for non diegetic and diegetic sound.
· Framing Devices used for chapters in the narrative. (“The Story of Lil Ze, The Tender Trio, The Sixties”)
· Red-harring Techniques used to make audience believe protagonist eliminates guy in taxi going to Sau Paulo.
· The use of enigma codes with the editing, slow mo as LiL Ze enters the scene gives audience time to think about key questions that will occur in narrative. (E.g. At opening sequence suggesting will Rocket be shot at that moment?) (Tsotsi and baby in car) (Vinz gun and confrontation with officer)
· Constant use of dissolves to emphasize the history of the headquarters which much represents the history of City of God.
· Low Key lighting is pretty much always used when criminal activity is taking place. (E.g. When Lil Ze eliminates the competition(BEV Shots).) apart from the juxtaposition sequence at the opening and ending where there is natural lighting because Carrot wanted to surprise Lil Ze and finish him off once and for all. Explains how crime occurs at any time in that setting.
· Restricted scenes, (Death of Lil Ze) (Murder with Shorty’s wife) connoting to the audience that the people in the area will not witness what has occurred.
Values- Friendship, Loyalty, Family, Respect.
Messages- “Crime doesn’t pay” “Consequences to your actions” (Rocket heeds these messages, which is why he is rewarded to compare and contrast with the other films.)
Intertextuality- Many have compared this film to Goodfellas but set in a different location. However this film portrays crime in a less glamorous style than the Hollywood successor.
· 74% of Brazilians are regarded as Roman Catholics.
· There are around 50000 murders a year according to official statistics in Brazil in 2006.
· 95% of criminal inmates are males.