Showcasing Feelings with the Use of Camerawork and Colors in City of God

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“At its heart, City of God is a gangster film, and a great one: epic in scope, powerful in conception, brilliant in execution.” says Christopher Orr (, 2004) regarding the 2002 Brazilian crime action movie Cidade de Deus co-directed by Fernando Mirelles and Katia Lund based on the 1997 novel by Paulo Lins. In the beginning of the movie, the first shot is an extreme close up of a sharpening knife. In this scene the camera cuts between the knife and a black screen. The sound of the knife scraping the rock is kept in action while the screen goes black also. This sound effect and the transition between the knife and the black screen leaves the audience in suspense as they don’t know the reason for the sharpening of the knife (chenicepostblog, 2015). Then the tension is slowly released by showing the other events on the street.

The close up of the terrified face of the chicken seeing his companions being murdered, represents the feeling of the civilians of city of god watching their relatives, children being murdered. The chicken being tied to a string shows the bond between the people and the city. They are always bound to the favela by some force. Then somehow the chicken manages to free itself from the string tied to its feet.

When the chicken escapes and jumps into the alleyway, the music suddenly stops and camera pans down to reveal a plate full of blood. This blood plate and the dead chickens give the awareness to the audience that the upcoming events will be consisted of blood and killings. A black boy sees the chicken escape and orders some fellow teenagers to catch the chicken. As those people obey his orders, they can be identified as some group of gangsters and the black boy as their leader. All the gang members chase the chicken with guns in their hands. “This electrifying picture is part tender coming-of-age film and part gang-warfare epic from the Brazilian slum” (, 2003) While they chase the chicken down the alleyway, the leader threatens an old person showing that he can do anything and everything he wants and anyone doesn’t dare to stand against him because of his big armed gang.

And then the chicken stops between the gang and Rocket. The gang leader orders Rocket to catch the chicken. While he is trying to do so, the police arrive and some of the gang members start to run. But the leader calls them back and they all point their guns towards the police showing that they even do not fear of the police. Then Rocket realizes that he is in the middle of a gang war between the gang of Cidade de Deus and the police. Then Rocket says “If you run away, they get you. If you stay, they get you.” This is emphasized by the run-away of the chicken and the chase. So the chicken can be given as a representative of the common dwellers of city of god. “The wise guys, their cowering subordinates, their stoic womenfolk and the dead bodies around them are all chickens” (, 2003)

In the middle of the gang war, Rocket starts revealing the story of City of God. So the movie flashes back into the 1960’s. A group of children is playing soccer in a dusty ground. Then two more character appears on screen. A very black boy with a very rude attitude later introduced as Li’l Dice and his friend Benny. Then a bit elder boy appears and seizes the ball away from Rocket. He is introduced as Shaggy. Then two of Shagyy’s friends appear with the start of the story of the Tender Trio. These two are known as Clipper and Goose. Goose is said to be Rocket’s brother and Shaggy is Benny’s brother.

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In the next scene, the hood called Tender Trio, steals a gas truck and distributes gas to the people. This establishes the connection of the tender trio with the dwellers of City of God. That is, the hood gives them gas so the citizens protect the hood from the police. This means, in this period of time, the people lived their lives and the hoods did their robbing without harming the civilians. So this period was peaceful relative to the other current condition of the city. “These adolescent amateur robbers were looked upon as the toughest hoods imaginable but were angels compared with the more ruthless criminal corps that would later evolve” (, 2002). They give a part of the money they stole from the gas truck to the children playing football.

In the next scene Rocket and his friend are on the way to the lake. People are sent to the City of God by the government as refugees. No electricity, no proper roads, proper houses, so Cidade de Deus is nothing more than a slum. In the scene in the lake, Rocket reveals his dream to become a photographer. He says that he does not want to be a policeman or a hood because he does not want to be shot. This proves the innocence of our protagonist and the contrast between him and his antagonist Li’l Dice.

The next scene starts with a close up of the gun. Then the camera pans out to show the gun is pointed at Goose who is smoking. He slaps Li’l Dice saying not to point the gun at him. Then Li’l Dice says that he is also a gangster. But the members of the hood chuckles at him. This reveal his intentions to become a gangster for the first time in the movie. In the gas truck scene also, Li’l Dice follows the tender trio and kicks the driver. This also proves that he fancied being a gangster, but the first time viewer does not recognize it much. “Their (tender trio) main role is to establish the setting's atmosphere as well as introduce Lil' Dice into a life of crime” (, no date).

Then Li’l Dice gives the plan to the hood to rob a motel. They set in the night for the motel with Li’l Dice and keep him as a lookout to warn them for the cops. They set in to the motel with no intention to kill. This proves that they are not a bad hood. To prove this even more, Mirelles introduces a scene when they rob the motel, Clipper goes into a room where a person wears a cross and leaves him without robbing.

Then they hear the warning by Li’l Dice shooting a window and they runs away from the motel. During this they hear shooting in the motel. Thinking that the cops are shooting in the motel and Li’l Dice has run away freaked of the police, they set off to City of God in a car. The car crashes into a shop. A guy in the shop calls the police. Clipper gets his ankle twisted on the run. So Clipper and Goose runs to the woods while Shaggy runs to a house where a woman called ‘Maracana’ lets him in for safety.

Goose and Clipper climbs onto a tree in the woods. Police comes into the shop where the car was crashed but the customers told nothing. But the guy who calls the police tells them that the hoods ran into the woods. So the cops search the forest throughout the night but they couldn’t find them. While they are hiding on the tree, Clipper has a vision and it makes him leave the hood to the church. Goose also leaves the hood and start selling fish with his father. And Shaggy marries the girl called Bernice. So the story of the tender trio ends up like that. “The Tender Trio are inseparable throughout their escapades. However, the bloodbath that occurs during the hotel robbery proves to be the end of their crime spree. Clipper wisely chooses to leave the slums and joins the church. The other two opt to stay only for their pasts to catch up with them and are shot dead trying to escape” (, no date).

In this part of the movie a yellowish colour scheme is used. This is because there was peace and happiness inside the city of god in spite of the hoods that remained in it. This is a huge contrast to the colours of the other parts of the movie. The whole of the movie, excluding the story of the Tender Trio, is composited of either more blues or greys to make the audience feel the same oppressed feeling as the civilians of city of god. “The change in colors from the dark brightness of the slum to the dusty sunny browns of the soccer field--alert us to a movie that is visually alive and inventive as few films are” (, 2003).

The use of colours makes it even more visually powerful. The use of non-professional actors can also be stated as a contributing factor for the realism that brings the movie not only to the eyes but to the hearts of the audience. As a whole, I can say that this movie is a master piece in all aspects of a movie such as direction, acting, cinematography and editing. “Meirelles’s visual style communicates the chaotic world bequeathed to a new generation of children by an indifferent society – a world of which they are desperately but unsuccessfully trying to make sense” (, 2016).

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Showcasing Feelings with the Use of Camerawork and Colors in City of God. (2021, February 10). WritingBros. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from
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