Camera Angles - 'City of God'

Ever since I read this part on camera angles it's hard to watch a movie without thinking all the time how the angles work! I find it interesting to see how some directors use these different angles extensively, while others kind of stick to the standard mid angle view. It's important to keep in mind that the angle is different than the distance from which the shot is taken, although both work together in establishing a specific effect in the scene. I also notice that a low angle viewpoint can sometimes distort the scene and I find that these are mostly taken from a shorter distance.

I watched 'City of God' (2002) a few weeks ago and was really struck by the creative use of camera angles. The movie on the whole is one of the most excellent ones I've seen, but together with the way the narrator told the story, the way the shots were taken gave the movie a very surreal, almost humorous feel that eased down the pain and cruelty of the story itself. The movie is full of good examples of how the camera angle create a certain atmosphere or alter the meaning of a scene. Here are a few that I'd like to discuss.

In the opening scene of the movie we see a few kids preparing a chicken for the grill. This is looked at by an other chicken, who gets very nervous and then escapes. As it turns out later in the movie, it is a crucial happening towards the plot of the movie in which the gangs are caught or killed and the main character becomes a famous photographer. The escape of the chicken also symbolises the escape from the main character from gang life. 

The first scenes in which the knives are sharpened and the mojitos are prepared are all low angle, canted shots. There's dancing and drinks. Now and then it turns towards the chicken at eye level and then alternating back to the preparations of the other chickens in low angle.

Viewpoint: The viewpoint indicates that this is what the chicken is seeing and making the chicken want to escape. It's a subjective point of view. When focusing on the chicken the point of view becomes straight and more objective, guiding the viewer towards understanding of the fear of the chicken.

Relationship: At first I thought how nice the atmosphere of Brazilian was portrayed, then after the point of view was switched to the chicken, I realised that what we saw was what the chicken was seeing and then the scene became much more threatening.

Status: The point of view indicates that the chicken is much smaller and vulnerable, but when turned towards the chicken it shows the angst of the chicken and possibilities to escape.

Suspense: The combination of the different angles build up a lot of suspense, because it's showing the increasing distress of the chicken, especially when there's the scene of the chicken feathers on the ground and the coming of a plan for escape.

Mood: The mood starts off as an almost feel good movie. Because of the low angle, we can only see the kids laughing and preparing a dinner. When the angle changes and the chicken is shown, the mood gets grimmer, but still quite happy, since the subject only seems to be about the escape of the chicken.

As you can see in the remaining part of this clip, the escape is filmed from a wide spectrum of angles as well. There's a great alteration in pauses and action. Both work together in building up the suspense. There's an alteration of high and low angle when the kids are chasing the animal, accentuating the uncontrolled way the city is built up from different layers of houses, little streets and shacks. From here the main character and narrator of the movie comes in the scene and through the changes of angles from POV to eye level directed at him, we can see his life passing by and we see him watching his life pass by. 

In the next scenes we learn about the life of gangster Little Zé. In this part we see a swift from the beginning in which the child Ze starts killing that is filmed mainly in an objective eye level point of view to a series of low angle point of views in which the viewer sees what the person sees before being shot. A crazy, violent boy with no boundaries. 

Viewpoint: In the beginning scenes we look at Ze from an objective, distance point of view, indicating the outside circumstances in which Zé grew up to be a gang leader. From there on the killings are shot from a low angle of view, indicating how mentally disturbed and violent the boy was from within.

Relationship: In the scenes with the more objective viewpoints one might still feel some sympathy for the boy and the circumstances he grew up in. The more the viewpoints are lowered and canted, the more the viewer starts to detest the violent and disturbed character.

Status: In the first scenes with the objective viewpoint the viewer is a safe bystander and the character is not threatening to the viewer, in the later scenes I feel like I am shot myself and the Zé becomes a threat to the viewer as well.

Suspense: The way the scenes are set up create a lot of suspense and expectation. I think it's because of the constant switching from one angle to the other and events happening from very unexpected angles, sort of disturbing what is going on. Peaceful scenes turn out to be very violent and the angles in which these are shot accentuate what is going on.

Mood: Strange enough, because of the constant changes of angle and quick pace of the movie itself, the mood is very grim but continues to stay light hearted as well. 

In other scenes I have noticed that during violent parts, the director decides to take either a distant hi angle view, or low angle, but hardly ever at eye level. In each scene there is a deliberate change of angles to work the atmosphere and story as much as possible. 

There is so much more that strikes me about this movie and the way it's directed, I'm sure I'll get back to it.