A quiet, richly-layered ensemble piece, Neighbouring Sounds is an absorbing social melodrama, that’s low on the drama (and pretty mellow, for that matter).
It offers a convincing glimpse at a contemporary Brazil, a country which is rapidly shifting up the global economic ladder, and bringing about a noticeable social polarity in the process.
Some of that is observed in the film, where rivalry and tension is rife between residents and family members of a (mostly) affluent, palm tree-strewn urban community, housed by the sea in one the country’s largest metropolitan areas, Recife. Interweaving the lives of a dozen or so characters, we witness a bored, pot-smoking housewife, with a physical penchant for the spin cycle on her washing machine, who is driven to distraction by the neighbour’s incessantly noisy mutt. After some petty crimes occur in the close-knit neighbourhood, the block’s aging patriarchal figure (and wealthiest residence) hires a seemingly sloppy and redundant security firm, although the company’s owner may not be as incompetent as he first appears.
Clocking in at 131 minutes, the film ambles along without much in the way of narrative drive, yet it remains compulsively watchable, thanks to the observational eye of director Kleber Mendonça Filho who is interested in capturing the subtleties and small quirks of his characters. In many ways, it’s almost like seeing the images of a documentary photographer’s portfolio come to vivid life in from of your eyes. Mendonça has a way of drawing you into even the most ordinary of situations. For instance, he manages to take what is really a superfluous scene of a cleaner changing from her work wear into casual clothing, and make it eminently intriguing and interesting.
Further on, the director establishes a rumbling soundscape which is reminiscent of a slow burn horror, and isn’t too dissimilar to Michael Haneke at his most ominous. He also throws in a couple of odd and bizarrely-staged surrealist moments within the mostly naturalistic framework which add further unease and a creeping sense of foreboding as the film slowly edges towards the finale.
Neighbouring Sounds’ muted approach and casual pacing isn’t for everyone – its worlds away from the hurrying, kinetic atmosphere found in home-grown product like the City of God and the Elite Squad films. But for those who don’t mind that lingering, almost voyeuristic display of human behaviour, this confident and promising debut is a must-see.