Festival gem: Neighbouring Sounds

Featuring in the First Feature Competition section of the Festival, this astonishing debut is a subtle urban horror film about the fear of violence on a middle-class street in Brazil.

Samuel Wigley
Updated:

One of the year’s most original fiction debuts, Neighbouring Sounds is a multi-character drama set on a street in the oceanside northern Brazilian city of Recife, where the veneer of bourgeois civility is ruptured by a series of small acts of insurrection.

What’s it about?

On an affluent street owned in part by ageing family patriarch Francisco (W.J. Solha), a band of private security guards arrive and persuade the residents to hire their services as a neighbourhood watch. Francisco’s son Joao (Gustavo Jahn) brings a girlfriend home, but finds her car broken into in the morning. Wayward cousin Dinho (Yuri Holanda) may be responsible. Meanwhile, housewife neighbour Beatriz (Maeve Jinkings) has a surreptitious home life smoking pot, masturbating with the aid of her washing machine, and drugging her next-door neighbours’ dog to stop its incessant barking. 

Who made it?

Born in Recife in 1968, where he later programmed the arts cinema and became a film critic and journalist, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s short films have been widely awarded on the festival circuit. His first feature, Critico (2008), was a documentary about the relationship between filmmakers and critics, featuring contributions from directors such as Gus Van Sant, Walter Salles and Carlos Saura. Neighbouring Sounds is his first fiction feature. 

What’s special about it?

International audiences know recent Brazilian cinema best for its depictions of the vibrant, violent life of the dirt-poor favelas (such as City of God, 2002). Neighbouring Sounds takes place in a middle-class quarter, but one where the citizens live in unstated fear of crime and insecurity. Filho’s film is a masterpiece of unease created by a bold use of sound and visuals that gesture toward horror cinema. It’s like watching a neighbourhood soap opera reimagined by J.G. Ballard or John Carpenter, an ensemble drama in which the edifice of prosperity is most under threat from the inhabitants’ own paranoias. 

What the critics are saying

Jay Weissberg, Variety:

Neighboring Sounds captures the very fabric of Brazilian society, whose seemingly porous hierarchies prove to be prohibitively rigid. It also catches the relationships between servants and employers, the subtleties of race, the perpetuation of privilege, the isolationism of consumerism, and then, in one breathtaking moment, effortlessly incorporates the legacy of Brazil’s dictatorship. […] Visuals take full advantage of the widescreen, making the characters seem like figures trapped in a diorama where the street and the apartments are hermetic worlds.

A.O. Scott, The New York Times:

The scope of [Mendoça’s] movie is narrow, but its ambitions are enormous, and it accomplishes nothing less than the illumination of the peculiar state of Brazilian (and not only Brazilian) society. […] What we see is mostly bright sunshine and fluorescent light. As the film’s title suggests, it is sound that carries unsettling implications of danger. We always hear more than we see: footsteps upstairs or outside; sirens and crashes in the night; whispering voices and humming machines. With his sound designer, Pablo Lamar, Mr Mendonça has created the aural landscape of a horror movie.

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