Fernando Meirelles’ City of God (Cidade de Deus 2002) tells the story of the growth of the drug trade in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. As Macelo Melo (2004) states that it appeared to be the one that finally succeeds in putting into practice the ‘retaking project’ – a film that directly communicates to the average audience, has full command of contemporary editing and photographic techniques, and social conscience. Besides, City of God has an Achilles’ heel that its few detractors attack: for instance, the exploitation of poverty, in other words, the aestheticization of the harsh realities of Brazil’s slums. This essay will tend to highlight the importance of areas in film narrative through which we comprehend a film. Many different sequences the film has been focused on and presented; and on the ways in which film narration, unfolds and informs mise-en-scene.
The opening sequence of the chicken run is an important scene as a film narrative in terms of temporal reordering and temporal narration at the end sequence where Rocket assumes a new dominance as narrator in the story itself, presenting his own story. The spectator is accompanied by Rocket, a key figure in the task of dealing with a great number of characters that appear and disappear in the course of the plot. Rocket’s narration in voice-over has an explanatory tone, always introducing new characters or didactically explaining the dynamics of the drug trade in the slum. He does not ultimately get involved with crime. Along the way, the film constantly shifts narrative genres, with most of the ‘normal’. Non-violent, moments associated with Rocket: there is a charmingly comic moment in which his friends dropped their plan to rob a bus because the fare collector was so cool and kind that they can’t bear to cause trouble for him.
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This story is not an in-person narrator but more of an autobiography, in terms of time at the end of the sequence according to the temporal narration because it is changing in time. Thus the temporal organization of the plot creates suspense by withholding information, and not just because we have to go through the entire film, in order to understand its elusive beginning. Even the events that occur in mid-narrative-such as a bloodbath that takes place during a motel robbery-sometimes can come in to focus later. The story essentially begins at the end, as we see the character we will come to know as “Rocket” (played by a wonderful Alexandre Rodrigues) trapped between a line of gangsters and a line of cops. The film flashes back to Rocket’s childhood in the 1960s for us to understand why he was running as if for dear life.
As the film makes its way back to the beginning, it reveals how Rocket’s relationship with the drug dealers grew, how he coped with the death of family and friends, how his interest in photography developed. He provides the eyes and the consciousness, through which all the events are viewed, from his own brother’s murder to everyday bloodshed, to the climatic, apocalyptic gang war between rival factions. In the City of God, there are many different shots that combined different segments and shots in the film which reflects the director’s style. Throughout the movie, many close-ups were used to describe the feeling of the actor. In the opening scene, there is a rotation shot on the football field. Numbers of shots were using the tilt camera angles. Such as the shot from the bottom where the kid was holding a gun in his hand, and the shot from the top in the crowded celebration party for Benny in the movie. Also, in a gang movie backward in order to capture those gangsters walking on the street and this helps to create an awesome feeling for the audiences.
The theme of violence becomes apparent to the audiences from the outset of the film. This description illustrates to us that violence is a key feature in the film from the outset, and as we are taken through Meirelles’ narrative violence is almost represented as normal, and acts as a backdrop to the city. The audience is constantly bombarded with images of violence through the city as we have introduced to the characters by the main character, Rocket. The film begins when he is nine years old, and this narration continues with his “neutral” view on gang warfare. The reason we are leaf to deduce that Rocket’s view is neutral is that throughout the movie, Rocket is always distinctly detached from the violence, and this is shown to us almost from the outset; when even from the narration in his youth, he clearly separates himself from the violence. Also, his career as a photographer for a reputable national newspaper also closely links him with the connotations of neutrality and impartiality.
However, throughout this narrative, violence is almost assumed to be a natural backdrop to the Favela, and this is demonstrated by the initial almost constant scenes of violence or gang-like behaviour. From the initial scene, followed contiguously by the frantic sequence where gangs of children and teens chase a chicken through the city, armed and shooting aimlessly around with no regard got anything. This leads up to a pivotal scene; a large gang lined up facing police; Rocket standing in the middle, This is yet another reason why we regard Rocket as neutral, through his performance and the technical codes of his demographics and his nervy behaviour, Rocket is shown to be detached from the gangs and the police, leaving him in a position to give us an impartial view on the affairs.
Another reason that the backdrop to this movie is violence is shown by the complex narrative solely focused on violent crime. The only reason characters bear any relevance in the city is through their criminality or violent behaviour. This is excellently shown by the “Character profile” given to us by Rocket in the opening, and these are further highlighted by the technical codes of a still shot of the character accompanied by a tagline of their name. Although some argue that the representation and depiction of violence are necessary for maintaining the verity of the plot, others feel that this backdrop of violence is futile, and such graphic representation is not needed. This is shown by the conflicting observations of critics. Firstly, “The distinction between the depiction of violence and its exploitation is paper-thin” (Rainer, P. 2003:23).
However, others view this representation as simply Meirelles’ strong degree of realism throughout the film and feel that this particularly violent representation is justified as he is presenting us simply with realism. “The violence never feels exploitative; the only thrill you feel is that of being in the hands of a masterful storyteller opening your eyes to a world you feel truly exists” (Caro, M.2003). It is clearly evident that Meirelles’ direction has induced controversy; raising the question of whether this representation is simply closely represented realism or simply excessive and gratuitous violence to titillate audiences. The narrative is important and could not be omitted in any single film, no matter that is an action, horror or romantic movie.
To talk at length about the narrative is beyond the scope of this essay. However, a number of important points have been seen and discussed. According to the City of God, temporal relationships, such as story order, duration and frequency have brought to the audience in another way by Rocket. There were many different shos that combined different segments, such as pan and tilt camera angles and the movement of the camera. In the City of God, violence took an important place created by the director. This is a form of narrative. On the other hand, City of God also brings a positive message to the audience: Never give up when you face difficulties in your life; fight and you will never survive, run and you will never escape.
- Caro, M. (2003), “The Chicago Tribune”, Chicago
- Rainer, P. (Jan 2003), “New York Magazines”, London/ New York, p23.