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Look And Listen: Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Neighbouring Sounds (2012) – DVD review

June 21, 2013 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 1 Comment

As Brazil’s poor hit the streets, the middle classes are holding their own sit-in protest in Filho’s outstanding satire of class warfare and urban malaise.

Neighbouring Sounds
(Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2012)

Neighbouring Sounds arrives on DVD with immaculate timing. This month, major protests have swept through Brazil over rising discontent with the gap between the haves and have nots, a division laid bare by the escalating costs of the forthcoming World Cup and Olympics.  Kleber Mendonça Filho’s not-quite thriller taps into the same anxieties but with enough lucid detachment to feel like an urgent state-of-the-nation address. This isn’t something that can be ghettoised like favela classic City Of God; this is about the whole of Brazilian society.

Comparisons have been made with Michael Haneke, aptly given the Hidden-esque use of surveillance as a symbol for simmering class hostility and Filho’s ability to conjure inexplicable dread out of the most mundane of things. Yet this is a film that also reaches further back, specifically to the golden age of American indie, with shades of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and John Sayles’ City Of Hope: sprawling ensemble pieces about the difficulty – if not impossibility – of living together in the pressure cooker of the city.

The main plotline sees an opportunistic security firm alight on a neighbourhood riven with petty theft but, where a conventional thriller would make their presence the crux of the drama, Filho uses the guards more subtly: as the pivot around which a wider range of action circles. It’s a good half hour before the firm is even introduced, allowing Filho to present a mosaic of stories – some interlocking, others tangential – to highlight the community’s paranoia and disharmony. It’s a world full of random outbreaks of violence, petty theft and the steady urban drone of drills and barking dogs, but most of the problems come from within – so what are a couple of guys on the corner going to do?

With such a big cast, it’s hard to know where to prioritise our interest, let alone our sympathies. Only over time can we sense who is playing an important role, while others – notably an archly satirical portrait of an entitled resident’s association – are nailed within a single scene. Gradually, it boils down to Bia (Maeve Jinkings), an archetypal tenant who has become pinned down into neurosis, and the street’s owners: Franciso (W.J. Solha), the shifty-looking patriarch who built an empire, and João (Gustavo Jahn), his jaded playboy grandson, who is ambiguously presented as both cause and symptom of the malaise.  And then, of course, there are the security guys, who gradually become a fixture in the block, a constant reminder of the block’s warped priorities.

Despite the title, and the outstanding sound design, Filho invites us to look as well as listen with a watchful camera that serenely tracks, pans and zooms to spot hidden details of a jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit. In the most audacious move, we jump from the macro to the micro as Filho pulls rack focus from a breathtaking landscape to a metal nut that’s fallen on the floor. It encapsulates everything the director is saying about Brazil’s (if not the world’s) urbanisation and the likelihood that, however hard we try to tighten things, there will always be the odd component or two that comes loose.

Neighbouring Sounds is released on DVD on Monday 24th June.  Extras are thin – deleted scenes and trailer only – but buy it for the film: the best feature debut in ages.

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One Comment

  1. I Like The Way You Vote, Boy! The results are in for the Best Films of 2013 so far » KinnemaniacJul 4, 2013 at 1:55 pmReply

    […] the results, my choices wouldn’t really have mattered.  My favourite of the year so far (Neighbouring Sounds) was miles off the pace, so the only difference would have been that Beyond The Hills (my #2) would […]

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