Subtlety is the name of the game in Kleber Mendonca Filho’s debut feature Neighbouring Sounds. Through discreet actions and clever camera techniques Neighbouring Sounds suggests to us that not all is well in this Brazilian suburb. Violence, anxiety, seclusion and class divides are all covered in this smart, tension filled drama.
In the city of Recife unrest is growing in one of its more prosperous streets. We are first introduced to Joao, who has just started a relationship with the beautiful Sofia. He has a fairly relaxed life, with a huge apartment and a comfortable amount of money. Much of his good fortune comes from his affluent Uncle, who just happens to own the street. His cousin Dinho, is a cause of great frustration. As a renowned car thief he has thus far been protected by his Grandfather, yet his and many other lives are about to change when a private security firm begins protecting the street. Elsewhere domestic and family issues start to get on top of housewife Bia, who smokes drugs and masturbates in secret.
Neighbouring Sounds is a slow burning drama that is told in three separate parts. The first two sections look at the dramas within the street, in a quite refrained and altogether sincere fashion. We see Joao discuss experiences and stories with family members and neighbours in a very realistic fashion. Bia goes about her secretive ways with the sort of shame that doesn’t see her crying into her cereal but with a “I should know better” look. Those are just two examples but the acting from the cast is impeccable. The lack of hysterics in the film and genuinely great dialogue allows these actors to really breathe in their roles and not get sidetracked with the films larger subjects. This is wherein the true beauty of this film lies. It doesn’t throw political or social allegories at you in every scene. It just quietly suggests unease to you, either with a simple glance of an actor or a shot of a slum surrounded by modern office blocks. Nothing is rammed down your throat and it makes for a refreshing and thoroughly interesting watch.
Whereas the film’s first two sections are relatively straight affairs, Neighbouring Sounds’ final chapter takes a much more sinister and darker edge. Certain scenes see the entire mood of the film change within a second. These are entirely unexpected and are potentially frightening. This third seems to be hinting at the social unease within the area is becoming more of a psychological issue for its inhabitants. However it could just be a clever use of visual metaphors to indicate to us that the violence, crime and inner turmoil is beginning to take a bigger toll on the films characters.
For a debut feature Filho has created a bold and confident depiction of contemporary Brazilian life. Whilst the plot of the film may be its biggest selling point, Filho is obviously a director with a very bright future ahead of him. Numerous shots in this film are executed with a real panache and understanding of great cinema. For a film that has sound in the title, its handling of audio is also something to marvel at. Using the sounds of the neighbourhood to bleed into others lives is a unique experiment but works remarkably well here. Sound is an important and often under appreciated medium within film. The sounds a film creates can either put you right in the heat of a moment or transport to a long forgotten land. Neighbouring Sounds finds plenty of time to explore the curiosity of sound and it is immensely satisfying.
Latin American filmmaking is very healthy at the moment. Directors like Pablo Larrin, Carlos Reygadas, Pablo Trapero and Juan Jose Campanella have all recently made big strides into the international film market. Kleber Mendonca Filho is a welcome edition to the continents growing talents and may many more follow.