Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Neighbouring Sounds (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)
Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Starring: Irma Brown, Sebastião Formiga, Gustavo Jahn, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos
Language: Portuguese, English, Mandarin
Duration: 131 min.
Rating: 7.7
Summary:
Life in a middle-class neighborhood in present day Recife, Brazil, takes an unexpected turn after the arrival of an independent private security firm.
Neighbouring Sounds is the debut feature film from Brazilian writer director and former film critic, Kleber Mendonça Filho. It premiered in the Tiger Competition at the 2012 Rotterdam International Film Festival, where it received the FIPRESCI Prize for: 'evoking an atmosphere of paranoia and menace through a highly ambitious use of sound and cinematography'.

It's set in a small upper middle class neighbourhood (essentially a single city block) in Recife, where a private security film is brought in to keep the streets safe after a rash of car burglaries, and casually follows the lives of several of its residents in random moments of their day. Providing on the surface what appears to be a low-key slice of life without an apparent storyline, but is really a cleverly layered screenplay, infused with that award winning atmosphere. An atmosphere announced right from the opening frame with a powerful drumbeat, then amplified with precise control into incredibly uneasy tension throughout the remainder of its running time.

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Part of what makes it so effective is the constant contrast between what's seen on the screen and how it's presented. The cinematography is bright, crisp, and steady. Not the shaky chase-cam style we are used to seeing from this type of intimate, almost voyeuristic, depiction of lives. That makes for a refreshing change, but also adds a level of imposing dread, from the slightly horror movie inspired way that the scenes are framed and staged. Angles that accentuate walls, bars, and doors are frequently used to create a claustrophobic feeling that contradicts the wide scope ratio in which the images are shot.

Even more significant, is the masterful and deliberate use of soundscapes here to disorient and put the audience on edge. Not just the pulse pounding score composed by DJ Dolores, but particularly in the design and layering of the myriad of domestic and urban noises that give the film its name. Everyday sounds like a barking guard dog; the humming of a washing machine; a soccer ball bouncing off concrete; or even hushed voices in the distance, are all mixed and emphasized louder than usual. All working together to create a disturbing and jarring effect that raises the tension to an almost unbearable height.

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

The narrative though, is one that takes a long time to reveal itself, and it's final revelations are not entirely satisfying. There is very little payoff delivered, and that feels a bit deflating considering all of the carefully paced characterization and accompanying massive buildup of suspense in the brilliant setup. 

Still, there is a lot to like about this film. In addition to the amazing technical work, there is the effortlessly convincing way in which Filho weaves the lives and interactions of more than a dozen different characters. None of the relationships or random encounters come across as contrived or forced, they all feel real, and that is very impressive. As is his nostalgic use of the setting to provide insightful contrast between different social classes, different generations, and different eras in a rapidly changing city. Even if the finale is lacking, all the rest of these well handled attributes make it a stylish and solid debut well worth checking out.
Bonjour Tristesse

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

Neighbouring Sounds • O som ao redor (2012)

5 comments:

evl keith said...

This sounds good. The still camera definitely sounds refreshing. Great review.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Keith. It was a nice added touch.

d_4 said...

It really does seem interesting.. as could be expected, I find the amplified use of sound intriguing, and for that alone I'll keep an eye on it over here. Not too sure how I'll feel by the time I finish watching it, but that's okay. It's the road heading toit that I look forward to.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I think you would dig this. Besides, even with its flaws, it's still a far better experience than any random whatever showing at the multiplex.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I agree with your review, but unfortunately that ending just killed it for me. I found it very unsatisfying. As you pointed out, the film built some nice anticipation with the characters and their stories, but it really goes nowhere.

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