Published Mar 07, 2013Being one of Brazil's prime business centers, Recife's population has grown exponentially over the years, compressing people into smaller, more intimate spaces where the sounds of neighbours, street vendors and the bustling of life are omnipresent.
In the opening of Kleber Mendonca Filho's wildly ambitious, sprawling epic of urban paranoia and claustrophobia, sounds are amplified throughout a city block patrolled by newly hired security guards after a series of burglaries sufficiently rile the locals. A girl rollerblading through alleyways passes by her neighbours, gliding through archways to reveal even more individuals crammed together in shared spaces, each shuffling and moving about, creating a cacophony of noise.
Seemingly, with an accepted premise of crime prevention setting up a traditional Brazilian theme of class system divides and alienation, Neighbouring Sounds should be a crime film. But while Filho doesn't ignore the criminal aspect of his setup, he's more interested in taking a documented surveillance approach to this community of upper class citizens, maids, security guards and the peripheral threat that never fully materializes.
A woman spends her days trying to drown out the sounds of a neighbouring dog; the security guards try to handle the criminal element — the grandson of one of the wealthiest men in the neighbourhood, ironically — passive-aggressively; a housewife buys weed from a water deliveryman; and a fornicating couple is interrupted by their maid. It's all very mundane and generally quotidian, with the incidental elements handled with the same gravity as the important ones, suggesting the focus is the constant, grating noise.
Filho spends his time focusing on characters trapped in their cycle of self-involvement. A woman driving away from her home indifferently runs over the soccer ball of a nearby boy— this shifts our perspective to how an incidental moment in one life might be a devastating event in another.
And in such a confined space, with so many people focused on their self-interests, casually annoying each other and generally lacking consideration, frustrations compound and culminate, creating violence within that even an army of security guards can't prevent.
This observation of the human inability to consider how their actions might affect others adds universality to Filho's compelling debut narrative feature. It's an extremely important root cause message that speaks more about the human condition and shared urban space than the many dramas that focus on more visually present symptoms. (CinemaScopio)