The term Mise-en-scene in film basically refers to “put in scenes” and it takes into account all the elements that are meant to add onto the production of the film. Such elements include: movement of camera with its characters, sound design, lighting deployed at different scenes of the movie and editing of scenes. Editing is a channel through which sequence of events is made temporal during the making and viewing of a film (Henderson, pg 317).
The film opens with chickens being prepared by Lil Ze gang members. One of the chickens manages to escape and this leads the whole crew to embark on chasing it. Armed with guns and machetes, the crew makes a corner into the street in a slow motion mode. They come face to face with the police and Racket is caught in between the two sides. It’s at this time that the camera is made to rotate with the character bringing about a moment of flashback that takes us way back into the sixties when Racket was still a young boy in a pitch playing football. According to Internet Movie Database (1999, pg1), this is in fact the beginning of the end. We are taken through the events that had happened before and its here that we get to meet the legendary trio made up of three dangerous young boys that are always armed. The slum upon which the movie is shot is known as “City of God” and it’s characterized by very many shanty houses that lack both electricity and piped water.
The narrator who turns out to be the protagonist is a small boy by the name Racket who narrates and explains each and every event that is happening. The environment upon which this movie is set is dry and dusty a symbolic representation of hard life experienced by slum dwellers. Crime is the order of the day and residents of the slum seem to have acclimatized to acts of violence. The legendary trio is then perceived robbing a lorry full of gas cylinders which they distribute to the slum dwellers till the police are alerted to come to the aid of the lorry driver. The lighting at this particular moment is made dull, a clear depiction of violent events that happens in the slum (Bordwell& Kristin, pg 233-254, 2003).
Lil Dice is a brother to shaggy, one of the legendry trio, and despite his age he clearly wants to be a gangster just like his elder brother. He comes up with a plan to rob a motel which he tells the legendary trio and the four embark on a mission to rob. They rob the motel and when police men arrive, they hurriedly manage to escape without Lil Dice. There is an immediate change of scene and we are left in suspense about what could have happened to Lil Dice, any way the trio reaches the slum with a stolen car and Goose crashes it to Shorty’s premises. The premise gets ruined and Shorty is seen, with the aid of bright lighting, snitching them to the police who had chasing them from behind.
Shaggy manages to reach Bernice’s home and her mother lets him in while clipper and Goose escape into the woods leading to a searching mission that is intended to hunt them down. Back at the slums, shaggy has fallen in love and it’s been three months since he is gone out. Clipper decides to abandon gangster life and he wistfully embraces religion. We never get to see him again while the movie unfolds.
As Clipper is walking towards the church two policemen who had been on patrol notice someone behind him and they make a chase. There is a religious song playing as he gets closer and closer to the church, this song encourages him to steer on despite the prevailing challenge (Scheuer, pg 143-165). An innocent boy is shot dead just behind him while he is not even noticed by the cops. The sound heard is that of hope and encouragement which Clipper needed at that particular moment in time.
Back at Bernice home, shaggy is reluctant to make a move towards her and there is an intellectual conversation boiling down which leads to the two kissing and they both fall in love. Outside everything seems normal and the weather is benevolent and peaceful. Dogs are perceived playing about the road until policemen arrive. The ambience is perfect while the lighting is made deep, a clear implication that everything has gone back to respective normal state
Goose and his brother are the only ones in the streets selling fish and Goose is attracted to Shorty’s wife immediately the camera rotates towards Shorty and we see him observing the two having some good time. The rotation is aimed at incorporating the audience with the characters so that the on going event is put into light for both the character and the audience to comprehend.
Bernice and Shaggy’s love has become so deep that the two are now in a mission to runaway from the slum for good and start a new life somewhere else; Meanwhile Shorty is being arrested by the police for the murder of his wife. He is a violent young man who gets jealous about his wife’s affair with Goose. Shaggy and Bernice have managed to hijack a car and have forced its owner to take them out of the slum .The car ceases from starting and Shaggy is forced to push it. While he is pushing it, Shorty informs the police about him and a chase is made that leaves Shaggy killed with bullets. This becomes the end of the tender trio and most importantly the end of the flashback.
The next scene commences with Lil Dice claiming that he has changed his name to Lil Ze; he has grown to be an ugly bad boy who kills everyone that tries to oppose his way of conducting business. He has full control of the slum apart from an apartment where Blacky conducts his drug business.
When a knock is hard at Black’s apartment, they resort to arming themselves with pistols thinking that it may be an ambush. The knock persists and when they open the door they find out that it was Lil Ze and his men at the door. Blacky retorts angrily that it was not a good idea for Lil Ze to knock that way in his apartment upon which Lil Ze answers “who said it was your place?”
The next scene is titled “the story of the apartment” and it takes us through the origin of the apartment: It was originally Dolla Zona’s apartment which she used as a home and as a place where she could sell her drugs. She even offered to sell those drugs to small boys like “big boy” in return for other favors: sexual favors. Big boy grew old and later managed to grab the house from her and immediately made it his den for drug business. One day he had forgotten to pay his dues to the corrupt policemen who later arranged for an ambush and managed to arrest him.
The apartment was left under Carrot, a very close ally to big boy, who decided to give out to Blacky due to his believe that the apartment was ill-fated. Blacky (a former classmate to Rocket) took control of the apartment until Lil Ze decided to reclaim it as it was on his side of the market share.
The editing done on this scene is so perfect that we are able to figure out the explanations to the different happenings that we as viewers did not know about. For instance when Lil Ze says that he is no longer Lil Dice, we are taken back through a flashback to the incident where the tender trio was robbing the motel. The flashback informs us that it was in fact Lil Ze who had shot the people back at the motel and that, that very incidence that played a big role in transforming him to a man he was. After killing the people in the motel his thirst for power and money grew and he embarked on robbing people on the streets and even went ahead to kill Goose (Racket’s eldest brother).
After these multiple killings, Lil Dice is perceived as being envious of the life Carrot and Blacky were living and he tells Benny that he wishes that he was the one living that kind of life. He goes to a sorcerer where he receives blessings that catapult his confidence to overthrow the prevailing drug cartel. The slum is perceived with dead bodies laying everywhere and Lil Ze manages to secure almost whole section of the slum to his side and leaves a little portion of it to Carrot. These two have been rivals all along and the only person that made sure there was peace in the slum is Benny. Benny is a very friendly and reasonable close friend to Lil Ze and unlike Lil Ze; he is smart and a lover for peace. He is the only link between Carrot and Lil Ze.
Benny has finally fallen in love with Angelica: Rackets dream girl and he has arranged a farewell party where he freely interacts with the slum dwellers. Lil Ze is busy making moves to secure his own woman but every move he makes is miscalculated since he falls for a beautiful woman who really loves Knockout Ned. When the two lovers kiss, Lil Ze he feels betrayed and humiliated that he decides to humiliate Knockout Ned. He makes him strip naked with an aim of embarrassing him at the party. Blacky, on the other hand is searching for Lil Ze so that he can finally avenge himself. He is holding a gun and since it’s at night he shoots Benny instead of Lil Ze. The party is stopped and everyone runs to a secure spot.
When Lil Ze notices that Benny is dead, he mistakenly accuses Carrot for the killings which definitely as a clear indication for street war. Blacky immediately runs to seek shelter at Carrots place but when he claims that he has killed Benny, Carrot immediately shoots him dead.
Lil Ze and his men are perceived putting ready their weapons and arranging an attack to Carrot side. On their way to Carrots place he meets with Knockout Ned’s girlfriend who ignores him completely. He gets angry and follows her to Knockout Ned’s home where he shoots his brother and father and rapes Knockout Ned’s girlfriend. This is the complete climax of the film since Lil Ze is perceived to be creating more enemies than friends. There is a bloody war in between the streets and many people, mostly young children, loose their lives.
The narrator then takes us through his life and the scene is referred as “sucker’s life” whereby he decides to get employed at chickenfeed where he is exploited and laid off and unpaid as his boss associates him with the “runts”. He gets tired of the fact that he is tries so hard but nothing seems to be work at all. He then takes us through another scene dubbed “flirting with crime”. He gets his late brother’s gun and embarks on a mission to rob. He later finds out that crime is not in his blood since every time he thinks of robbing he gets carried away with various sentiments he gets from the “ to be” victims. He decides to abandon the decision and he gets a job as a delivery boy in a press company where he gets to meet his long time favorite photographer: Rodriguez.
Back at the slum, war has reached its dead end point and every individual is either perceived to be on Knockout Ned’s side or Lil Zee’s one. Corrupt policemen are perceived making a kill out of this war. They sell weapons to both groups through their salesman. Racket, on the other hand, is slowly gaining popularity as he is summoned by Lil Ze to take a few snaps of them holding guns and when he takes the film to be developed, one of the publishers sets the pictures of Lil Ze as the cover page,. When Lil Ze notices that his picture covers the whole front of the newspaper he naively feels that he has gained more power than his rival Knockout Ned.
Racket on the other hand is really afraid and gets angry with the lady who published the photographs, he is later calmed down and later paid for the good work he has done. He is further assigned the task of taking more photograph pictures of the crew and he is given a very sophisticated camera. He gets very excited about the camera and embarks on the journey to his new career.
He is however hesitant about the task since he is in fear for his life. He thinks that the publishing of those photographs might have caused a stir of enmity between Lil Ze and him which in fact is an irony since Lil Ze was so happy with him for making him popular.
On his way to finding Lil Ze, he gets in between the police and Lil Zee’s gang and without knowledge of what was happening, he thinks that Lil Ze has finally caught up with him and that he was going to kill. Meanwhile Knockout Ned and Carrot are busy arranging on how to counter-attack Lil Ze but are finally caught by the police.
The corrupt policemen take Lil Ze to custody and after a short drive into the slum, they get Lil Ze out of the car and he leads them to his safe box where he kept his money. He gives them his money and when they leave a group of “runts” approach Lil Ze. He thinks that they are on his side but the fact of the matter is the “runts” had all along been planning on how to take over the slum from the likes of Lil Ze and Carrot and since Carrot was in police custody, they feel that the best way to take care of Lil Ze is by killing him instantly which they do and leaves him laying on his own pool of blood. Racket ends the narration by stating that he had enough of slum and with the best snap shots, he was going to become influential in the photography profession.