The first scene in City of God starts with an extreme close-up of someone sharpening a knife on a black rock. The camera “flickers” or cuts back and forth from a black screen to the knife repeatedly. This makes it hard to see the knife but easier to hear the diegetic sound of the blade running across the rock. At this point (30 seconds into the film) the audience does not know why the blade is being sharpened. As the scene develops further, cross-cutting and extreme close-up shots are used.
Many of the shots seem to be preparation for a meal. We see close-up shots of carrots being peeled and the camera crosscuts to a chicken being killed and plucked. Also, a few snips of a man playing a guitar or some other type of string instrument fit into the crosscut pieces. We get clips of sandaled feet shuffling or dancing along with the music being played softly in the background. We see clips of guitars, drums, and shakers intertwined with the clips of chickens, carrots, and feet. About a minute and a half into the scene we see a chicken wiggling its foot out of a rope.
Just as the chicken frees itself and lands in the center of an alley, the drumming stops and the camera suddenly cuts to a close-up shot of blood on a plate. This helps to foreshadow other parts in the rest of the film. The chickens are just the very beginning of the killings that will happen throughout the film. After the plate full of blood shot ended, a parallel shot takes the audience straight to a close-up of a man yelling in a foreign language for someone to grab the chicken. We then see a whole “gang” of people running with guns.
We then see a crosscut between a scene with Rocket and his friend talking about photography and a scene with the gang standing in the middle of the street. The Lil’ Ze bumps into someone and pushes him down, pulls out a gun, and threatens to kill the guy on the ground. The camera shot used in this part of the scene is an over the shoulder shot behind the gang leader. The camera is at a high angle while the victim is on the ground. Rocket and Lil’ Ze meet in the middle of road and Lil’ Ze yells for Rocket to grab the chicken.
The gang leader and his gang then see the police off in the distance and yell “oh shit police”. A long shot is used to show the people running, but Lil’ Ze demands his gang not to run off. They all then grab their guns and point them at the police who are standing behind Rocket. Rocket then realizes he is in the middle of all the action and doesn’t know exactly what to do. The film then cuts to a scene with children playing soccer. The opening scene creates enigma because the audience is left wondering about a lot of things.
This scene also established a couple of central or main characters in the film. Mise-en-scene is used throughout the beginning to give the audience a truer understanding of what is going on. When analyzing the film, the audience can tell that it is set in the seventies due to the stock costumes. For example short shorts, stripy colorful t-shirts, and bold afro style haircuts all distinguish the film as being set in the past. The clothing of the gang denotes a rugged and worn look. We can also tell what the City of God is really like through mise-en-scene.
We can see the ruthless conditions the people live in. Old and sparse living areas, empty streets, and make-shift roofs draw attention to the struggle in the crime-ridden city to find basic things such as suitable shelter. By showing all the surroundings the audience can see everything and sympathize for the innocent living in the city. Mise-en-scene used in the beginning helps establish where the characters are such as outside, preparing food, in the middle of the road, and walking down stairs and what time of day events are taking place such as bright lighting to convey daytime.
We can see the differences between the two leads, Lil’ Ze and Rocket through their non-verbal language, Rocket walks very calmly and speaks quietly. When we see him for the first time, a tilt-down shot of him and his friend walking down some stairs, we can see that he likes to keep to himself. He is very silent and shows little emotion, the audience predicts that he has had quite a rough time and has seen some terrible things living in the ‘City of God’. When studying Lil’ Ze through his non-verbal language we can see that he is very aggressive, he walks with very heavy footsteps.
His face is very tight and he draws his weapon with little worry, the audience predicts him as being one of the gang leaders in the city. When we first hear Lil’ Ze speak, the music is stopped and when he shouts we can only hear what he says and not the music. This shows that he is the voice that every one listens to and nobody else. He laughs when he orders his gang to kill the chicken. Murder is funny to him it seems. When we hear Rocket speak he is quiet and soft compared to the aggressiveness of Lil’ Ze and this also distinguishes the two to be very different from each other.
The first section of the film ‘chase the chicken’ is told as a linear narrative. The chicken see’s what is happening to his friends, so he decides to make a run for it which in turn causes the gang to chase him. This then results in Lil’ Ze’s gang, in what the audience identifies, to be a potential shootout with the police. The audience is placed as someone looking in on what is occurring in the ‘City of God’. Use of a handheld camera and camera on a tripod make us believe that we are part of the action.
In the beginning we recognize the chicken as being a helpless living thing trying to escape death, which is the same story of the people living in the city. This is not discovered until the end of the film when we have seen everyone’s story and understand how Rocket and others in the city are continuously escaping being killed by the gangs. We see the gang violence through the eyes of rocket. Point of view shots show what life is like to be an innocent citizen through times where there is ongoing conflict between the police and the cities gangs.
Tension is created through several different techniques; the music is fast paced to stress the anticipation and suspense which is around every corner in the ‘City of God’, and this music speeds up as time passes by. The sound effects from the cooking of the chickens and the footsteps scrambling around the streets all create suspense of what is about to come. The final shot of Rocket facing Lil’ Ze’s gang makes the audience want to know what will come of Rocket and is the enigma of the opening two minutes. Quick succession of different cross-cutting and jump shots also gives the opening a very quick pace.