' ' Cinema Romantico: Neighboring Sounds

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Neighboring Sounds

"The Wall", a 2012 film from Austria, featuring mysticism and allegory in equal doses, centered around a woman left alone at a hunting lodge in the Alps who finds herself unable to leave on account of an invisible wall. Thus, separated from society, she is forced to fend for herself and face isolation. The wall in Kleber Mendonça Filho's "Neighboring Sounds", Brazil's 2013 entrant for Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film (it was not nominated), however, is of a much more literal variety.

The film is set primarily on and around a towering high rise along a single city block in a mostly affluent neighborhood in Recife, a Brazilian city located along the Atlantic coast. As it opens, the residents have begun thinking of themselves as less than protected behind their own walls. On the street, cars are broken into, windows smashed, items and personal effects stolen. With safety rightly becoming a concern, Francisco (W.J. Solha), the patriarch who owns this slice of real estate, calls upon a private security firm for protection. This might suggest a burgeoning gangland war, but Filho strives for something eerier and much more esoteric.

Mood and atmosphere reveal themselves as the primary objective, working on our nerves much the same way the high rise itself works on its residents' nerves. Taking the film title to heart, all sorts of sounds, real world and engineered, permeate the soundtrack, all of them working to unsettle. Sirens, dogs barking, some sort of undefined clamor suggesting the aliens from "Contact" might be sending a message. In one moment it even offers the traditional horror film Loud Chord Banged On The Soundtrack as an unspecified someone or something flitters behind a doorway in our peripheral vision. Except Filho pointedly never answers our question: did that really happen? It is exemplifies the old horror movie adage that what we don’t see is always more excruciating than what we do. And, in fact, the film as a whole plays off that idea, slyly suggesting how one social group might specifically refrain from seeing another.

"Neighboring Sounds" resists a straight-forward arc. Issues broached at the beginning are afforded no traditional payoffs. Joao (Gustavo Jahn), for instance, is Francisco’s son, reluctantly brought into the father’s business. He has begun seeing Sofia (Irma Brown) and they seem content. When the CD player is stolen from her car, Joao becomes determined to track down the thief and eventually provide a replacement. Their relationship ends, though, when Joao casually mentions it ending to an acquaintance. We don’t see the breakup and are never provided a reason for its happening.

Throughout “Neighboring Sounds” I found myself wondering just how much of the film I was truly seeing and what I might be missing as an American, though I appreciated the window into a different world. I can also say that with both the World Cup and Summer Olympics headed to Brazil in the coming years, my country's media forces have taken an interest, and pieces I have read seem to suggest deep-rooted class conflicts, the wealthy “insulat(ing) themselves from this dysfunction” as The New Yorker notes.

A high rise goes up and its walls work to insulate its tenants from a society and its past and its ongoing problems, yet society’s sounds still insinuate themselves. You can cordon yourself off, but it’s all in vain. The walls will be breached.

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