City of God — Form analysis

The opening scene of City of God is a good example of demonstrating form through different methods in editing, cinematography, lighting and colour, sound mise-en-scene.


  • Fade to and from back at the very start shows flashes of the knife being sharpened, giving suspense and intrigue as to what will happen next. What will this weapon be used for?
  • The pace of the cuts at the beginning creates a sense of unease, putting the viewer in the chicken’s perspective as if you were seeing what it was seeing. It creates a sense of urgency and anxiety.
  • Parallel editing is used in the shot of Rocket walking with his friend plays alongside the gang members running through the streets, suggesting that they will meet along the way.
  • Graphic match smooths out the transition between current time and the flashback (non-linear editing), setting up the story and beginning to explain the relationship between the characters.
  • The freeze frame and zoom in on Rocket during the flashback makes it as if a photo is being taken.


  • Besides the static shots, the use of handheld shots during the bird chase makes it feel as if you are on the run from the gang members with the chicken, immersing the audience in the film.


  • Overhead and wide shots are used to establish the space.
  • Close ups, particularly during the beginning shots create a sense of unease; seeing other chickens being killed and cut up while the chicken is tethered down, watching. The close ups of the character’s laughing face gives the impression that he is a bad person, even sadistic.


  • The low angles of the gang members suggest the power they have in their town.
  • The point of view of the chicken adds to the chaos of the chase.


  • Natural lighting from the sun is often shadowed by the tall buildings, with streams of harsh light bouncing off the gang members.


  • A blue/green tinge is used to represent present time and orange in the past, which could suggest that Rocket’s life is now more conflicted.
  • Rocket’s clothing is also blue in the opening scene, as if he is trying to blend into his surroundings.
City of God colour pallet


  • The diegetic sounds such as of the knife in the beginning adds to the unease.
  • The sound of the gunshots created an increased sense of urgency and a realisation that the gang members have disregard for others in the town.
  • The music creates a pace to match the editing.
  • The non-diegetic sound of Rocket’s voice over is used to connect the flashback and explore the story further.


  • The location suggests that the film is set in a poorer neighborhood, in a warm area (as suggested by the clothing that the gang members are wearing), possibly somewhere in South America.
  • The cars on the street and the costumes suggest the film to be set in the 70’s.
  • Rocket in comparison is wearing proper shoes, cleaner clothes and long pants, suggesting that he doesn’t fit in with the others or that maybe he is financially better off. The camera around his neck also suggests that he may be a professional photographer, escaping the inevitability of being caught up in gang activity that would be common in the slums.

All of the elements in the scene work together to produce emotion. In this instance, one of a sense of urgency and anxiety, engaging the audience and making them wonder what is going to happen next. The way that the chicken is treated in the scene shows the audience what the gang members are capable and the lengths they will go to get what they want, setting up the character arcs.


Bazaesky, Z. [Zach Bazarsky]. (2014, July 17). Opening Scene — City of God [Video file]. Retrieved from

Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2013). Film art: An introduction (10th ed.). New York, USA: McGraw-Hill

City of God [Image] (2013). Retrieved from

Kuhn, A. & Westwell, G. (2012). Oxford dictionary of film studies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press

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