Neighboring Sounds | Movie review
Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho makes his feature debut with a magnificently rich city symphony.
A magnificently rich Brazilian city symphony that may have been the most remarkable debut feature to emerge last year, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s tapestry-epic is set in a middle-class ’hood in Recife, where old money abrades lower-class servants, families wage silent warfare, and community thrives despite modern distractions. Everybody has secrets—some dark, some feather-light. The director nonchalantly bops from one scenario to the next, and he does it with a visual grace and affection for his characters’ ambiguities that smacks of Renoir and Rohmer.
A tense single mother (Maeve Jinkings) faces off against the barking Weimaraner next door, hiding her prodigious pot habit by exhaling into her vacuum. A young land-dynasty scion (Sebastião Formiga) brokers apartments and woos a moody girl. An amateur street-security team arrives and persuades the street’s denizens to pay for its patrol. Glancing off more than a dozen lives, and dosing us with beguiling jolts of surreal humor and hints of dread, the film resembles early Paul Thomas Anderson, but better. Filho has an eagle’s eye for the irony of how wealth confines the wealthy, and how class relationships manifest as equal parts love and fear. Everything feels spontaneous, without feeling random or glibly ironic. In its last quarter, Neighboring Sounds waltzes into more dread-filled regions, haunted by history. Blandly inapt title aside, the film’s balance between generosity and menace may well be unique.