Friday, August 24, 2012

NEIGHBORING SOUNDS' Kleber Mendonça Filho digs into people, place, class & conflict

Brazil? Having never been there, I know it mostly via movies: narrative and documentary. From Bus 174 to Elite Squad (and its fine follow-up), Lula to the DZI Croquettes, Found Memories to Waste Land and Rio Breaks (to name but a few), the view moves from rich to wretched and back again -- sometimes encompassing both at once. One of the more interesting examples of recent Brazilian film-making is also one of its most sophisticated and challenging, NEIGHBORING SOUNDS by Kleber Mendonça Filho (pictured below), a fairly new filmmaker whose first full-length narrative movie this is.

The movie takes place on a single large and long city block in the coastal town of Recife. We see the history of the place in black-and-white photographs that begin the movie. Then we switch to color and the present day. We see this single block via a number of people who reside there or service the area (the fellow who delivers the bottled water also doubles as the local pot dealer). The families seem relatively well-to do (the block is very nearby the beach; if I am not mistaken, it nearly butts up against it), and one of them, now a grandfather, together with his sons and their extended familes, pretty much owns the block and the surrounding area.

What distinguishes this film, more than anything else, is how Mendonça Filho, as writer and director, pulls you into the lives of the inhabitants so thoroughly that you feel you know and understand them as problemed human beings remarkably well. You also see how economics, class and color separates these people, even as they themselves seem not at all cognizant of this. Yet they are, and so are we.

Separated into three sections labeled Guard Dogs, Night Guards and Bodyguards, the movie captures unease amongst the "entitled" class about as well as anything I have seen. No actual mention is made of this unease, but is there almost constantly -- from the series of minor breaks-ins (on local autos) to the hiring of a team of "security" experts (above) to what looks like a typical Brazilian "tenants meeting (below, which apes rather well some of our own NYC co-op meetings I've been involved in over the years).

The filmmaker's pace is measured, all right, but it never slow nor boring, with the occasional shock or surprise along the way, as when grandfather's maid meets up with one of our security guys, and makes love inside an apartment he is watching over. In the midst of their lovemaking -- oh, but why spoil things?

The family we get to know best (above) includes a loopy mom, her two kids and her all but absentee husband. What happens amidst the delivery of a wide-screen TV (and another to the apartment next door) is one of the many highlights here. We also get to know grandad's two grandsons, one an "upstanding" real estate entre-preneur, the other a petty thief. We also come into contact with the former's cleaning staff/servants, who appear to have a wonderful relationship with their "boss." Sort of.  The way the relationship works is subtle, but it's definitely displayed for us to witness.

Mendonça Filho never insists; he rarely even tells. He simply shows. And what he shows is among the more impressive and original narrative films to open this year.

Neighboring Sounds, distributed by The Cinema Guild and running 131 minutes, makes its theatrical debut today, Friday, August 24, at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the IFC Center in New York City. You can see other currently scheduled playdates for September through November by clicking here.

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