Neighboring Sounds, Brazil's Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : The Cinema Guild. International Sales Agent: FiGa Films
Sound is a noble entity. It disregards the immense efforts people carry out to create separation. Walls, doors, windows, and all other material boundaries set in place to protect privacy or dictate who or what is allowed to enter a certain space. They are however absolutely no match, and are bypassed by the sneaky intangible, but very present, waves of sound. Staying loyal to its self-explanatory title, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighboring Sounds is a sensorial exploration of the mundane. It pretends to be a story about the rational and circumstantial interactions of a group living in an affluent community in Recife, Brazil, yet, its underlying story about the consequences of the past is pristine and solidly delivered by the ensemble cast.
Intending to depict varied experiences within the same context, the filmmaker has carefully chosen an array of subjects from different walks of life which coexist in this exclusive realm of which they form a part. Enjoying the stability that old money provides, João (Gustavo Jahn) is the grandson of prominent millionaire Mr. Francisco (W.J. Solha) who claims ownership to several of the apartment complexes in the area. Unlike the arrogant patriarch, João shows a friendly and grateful demeanor towards those below him, including his maid Maria whom he treats like family. In the same prosperous manner, Bia (Maeve Jinkings) is a mother of two whose biggest banal concern is how to stop the neighbor’s dog from barking. For all its seeming insignificance, it becomes her sole purpose in life. Lastly, the other group in focus are the recently assimilated security guards for hire, spearheaded by Clodoaldo (Irandhir Santos) who have come to this tightly knit micro-society to protect the tenants from petty theft. Despite the seemingly unperturbed ambiance in which everyone lives, dark motives and vendettas are disguised by the noisy nights and hypocritical repentance.
Voyeuristic in its approach, the camera hides behind the divisive surfaces and observes meticulously all the trivial occurrences that compose this urban intersection of dramas. Piercingly moody, the sound design emphasizes the layers of suspenseful atmosphere and acquires esoteric qualities which direct the narrative away from the simple exposition of situations and into the territory of experimental artistry. The film additionally uses the organic inclusion of dream sequences which rather than disconnecting the viewer from the factual setting that this concrete urban ecosystem embodies, serve to grant a different understanding of the fears and remorse the characters hide internally.
Inside the walls of these opulent living spaces, there is an unspoken discrepancy between those with enough acquisitive power to pay servitude and those forced to be servants as only source of income. Classist as most societies in developing countries, grudges and revenge plots have been brewing for a very long time between those at both ends of the spectrum. In this cinematic creation by a superb new Brazilian voice, those callings for payback might finally receive justice. Whether or not Mr. Francisco can fully comprehend the antagonistic behavior Clodoaldo and his minions exhibit or the obscure, almost intrusive, way in which they became part of the neighborhood, the past will catch up with him sooner rather than later. On his own terms, João vividly experiences the residual guilt passed down through generations literally soaked in the blood of the family’s invisible victims. Clever and bold, everything that happens on the screen is there not precisely to advance the plot into a defined direction, but to create a nerve-racking tension based on how ordinary it all looks.
Genuinely interested in telling stories far from the commonplace favela-dwelling tragedies, Mendonça Filho creates a fascinating study of the Brazilian upper-middle class, embellishing it with an abstract mix of surrealist nightmares and the more than noticeable auditory palette, Neighboring Sounds, the visionary director’s first feature, is one of the most audacious debuts in a long time, and surely one of the most original works of the year. All the restless barking, pounding drums, and the loud vibrations from a sexualized washing machine, tend to, ironically, convey more visual commentary than straightforward imagery could ever do.