Abundant are the views of neighbors’ patios from second floor windows, and rare is the moment when one ever feels completely alone. In a dense urban middle-class neighborhood, with the constant specter of another new high-rise going up, one is continually aware of the other members of the community. New director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s story is as complex as the Brazilian city of Recife in which it’s set, and conveys accurately the negative feelings—which range from resentment to envy to suspicion—that can often simmer in such a place, where too often a private residence doesn’t exactly equal privacy.
A very fine line exits between awareness and suspicion. On the one hand, awareness of those around us is essential for self-protection, yet the practice of constant critical observation can easily escalate and become paranoia. Watch your back too much and you start to believe all your own fears. For this ensemble of different ages and from conflicting socio-economic classes, this attentiveness hits uncomfortably close to home over several weeks when a new security service establishes its presence on the block—Clodoaldo Security, headed by Mr. Clodoaldo himself (Irandhir Santos), a charismatic but unsettling presence, who, with his working-class skepticism, is a kind of MacGuffin interwoven through Filho’s careful deconstruction of each character.
Intertwined amid the many stories is a startling plot that suddenly materializes before our eyes at an unexpected moment. Filho’s slow pace and loosely connected storytelling shroud the build-up to this fascinating twist. He achieves for most of the film an engaging and unique story, with about five minutes of edge-of-your-seat suspense thrown in for good measure.
Neighboring Sounds is a deeply intellectual film, rife with double meaning. It hides its ultimate intentions behind carefully observational tactics. Though the actors feel pulled right from the street, Filho’s camera is exhaustively planned. A camera tilt here, a dolly move there, and an extended Steadicam sequence to open the film: we’re always moving through the scenes, like Emerson’s transparent eyeball, as a part of the story through our identification with the characters. But we simply observe, seeing the larger cycle of human nature for what it is.
Filho’s real achievement is making both a profound intellectual statement and telling a plethora of compelling stories at the same time. Though some of the details of each may become lost amid the clamor, you’ll walk away feeling rather refreshed. The film is a kind of mental cleansing—a perspective shift. It’s a view of a place that regards social class as one of its highest concerns (although tell me a place that doesn’t) yet it allows us to see it not as a struggle but as a give and take. If perhaps just a few more of us saw the world outside of the theater from this same wide perspective, things would be different.