Neighboring Sounds (O Som ao Redor)

Neighboring Sounds (2012) translates literally as ‘The Sound of the Surroundings’, or you might say the aura of a specific place. The atmosphere surrounding a middle class condo building in the coastal city of Recife, Brazil is definitely palpable in this enigmatic but fascinating new film.

The debut feature film by critic turned filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho takes place entirely in and around a tower block community of new condo buildings overlooking the beautiful ocean coastline of northern Brazil, and is a peek into the private lives and daily goings-on of a number of its residents. 

It’s a film where nothing really happens, but it kept me engaged with the eerie feeling that dangerous unsavory people are lurking just beyond the condo walls, and that people are living in fear of something that may be about to happen at any moment. Security seems to be foremost on everyone’s mind and with seemingly good reason. 

Most of recent Brazilian cinema has been preoccupied with the favelas and slums of Rio; City of God (2002), Lower City (2006), and Elite Squad (2008), but this movie is definitely a departure from those violent films. The violence we sense here is an unsettling feeling we get from the high walls, barbed wire fences and security cameras.

The neighborhood buildings are owned by a wealthy property owner, Seu Francisco, who has an old family estate house on land that was settled by some of the first Portuguese to arrive in the new world. He also lives in one of the condo buildings he owns in the city with his sons who rent units out to the residents. 

The fascinating aspect of this film is how the remnants of the old colonial times still survive today in the modern relationships between the poor and wealthy, the native population and European descendants in Brazil and South America. That sense of mistrust and co-dependence on both sides is an unspoken simmering tension.

A car is burgled one night on the street in front of the modern condo tower and the next day someone shows up soliciting their services as independent private security guards. It seems suspicious but the residents, feeling vulnerable, decide to go ahead and hire the guards in order to safeguard the street. 

The movie shows how the neighborhoods and the structures that we live in may have changed drastically over time, but people basically have not. We are still the same primitive beings with the same habits, prejudices, passions and fallacies as always, and no amount of security can protect us from that. 

The movie represents in many ways the colonial fear of being invaded, and how it still affects and influences us today. Throughout the film we are aware of how the modern high rise condo is infiltrated by outsiders due to the weaknesses of its residents. The suspicious events are like a pill that one resident plants in the meat that tranquilizes a guard dog. A drug dealer poses as a water delivery person, a maid bring her children to play in the safety of the apartment where she works, and as the newly hired street security guards gain access to the building, their true purpose is unknown but will be revealed in the final explosive moments of the film. 

This highly sophisticated and promising debut by a talented new film director makes some creative use of sound, and dream sequences that build additional layers of aura to the film. Kleber Mendonça Filho is one to keep an eye on in the future, and I will be watching out for his next film. This could be the beginning of a new era in Brazilian cinema.



Jon Jefferson said...

This isn't my usual style, but I do like slice of life films on occasion.

Susan Cooper said...

This is very interesting. I've not heard of this movie. I may have to give it a look. Sometimes these films are really fun for me.

Anonymous said...

I loved City of God and I am certainly interested in this film as well. Your allusions of the feel and tone of the film really helped me get a feel for what I could expect when I see the film. I'm going to see if I can find it.



I followed you on twitter as I love movies and when I'm not reading I'm certainly watching a movie. (I'm watching Y tu mama tambien as I read your post and type this. lol)

KWade said...

This sounds like a really interesting movie. I like the idea of seeing into cultures that seem so far from us but the people living there are still so similar. I always really like reading your reviews.

JP said...

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting on my blog posts. I really appreciate it.

I totally agree with you about experiencing new cultures on film. City of God and Y tu Mama Tambien are both awesome films and some of my favorites too.

I've probably seen both of them two or three times.

Sally DeSmet said...

Your post definitely gave me the flavor of the film - I want to see it. Nice blog!