Details: 131 mins, Brazil,
Synopsis: Life in a middle-class neighbourhood in present-day Recife, Brazil, takes an unexpected turn after the arrival of an independent private-security firm. Their presence brings a sense of safety but also a good deal of anxiety to a culture which runs on fear. Amidst the towering apartment blocks, lives the patriarch Francisco (W.J. Solha), who owns much of the property in the area, along with an estate in the country. Francisco's beloved grandsons also live on the street, one contributing to the family business while the other engages in petty crimes for the fun of it. Bia (Maeve Jinkings), a mother of two, spends all her time in her apartment smoking weed, while plotting how to get the neighbours' dog to stop barking. The security firm arrive offering protection but do so with a strong hint of menace too, and through their interactions with the street's residents of different classes, a complex hierarchy becomes apparent.
Brazilian drama about class, privilege and crime blurs its vision.
Too often the director inserts scenes of little or no import
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Lurking somewhere inside this sprawling Brazilian drama is the potential for an original and engaging film about the gap between rich and poor, the encroachment of urban development, the impact of crime and creeping paranoia.
Alas, rookie writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho pads out the narrative to a self-indulgently long 131 minutes, overstuffed with red herrings, non-sequiturs and too many scenes that lead nowhere. That lack of focus and discipline robs Neighbouring Sounds of much of its dramatic heft and may leave some viewers pondering the obscure meaning of it all.
No blame should be attached to the talented cast, who do the best they can to interpret characters that are often vaguely defined or behave erratically. Also, the fragmented, episodic structure divided into three chapters impedes the momentum when an overarching theme would have been more compelling.
The film is set primarily in an upscale neighbourhood of the coastal city of Recife against a backdrop of high-rise towers. In one apartment lives Beatriz (Maeve Jinkings), a bored, middle-class housewife who secretly smokes pot and inventively uses the spin dryer as a vibrator, which could give whitegoods manufacturers a novel marketing hook. In another, more lavish pad, lives playboy João (Gustavo Jahn), a grandson of Seo Francisco (W.J. Solha), an elderly, patrician gentleman who owns most of the properties in the street and a sugar plantation.
The maids and housekeepers are the only representatives of that other Brazil which exists beyond the neighbourhood’s high walls, security gates and surveillance cameras.
Francisco is fiercely protective of his other grandson Dinho (Yuri Holanda), a cocky, troubled lad who gets his kicks by thieving. When a CD player is stolen from his new girlfriend’s car, João accuses Dinho of taking it, which he denies initially, then hands over a player. This mini-outbreak of crime is fertile territory for a three-man private security team headed by the shifty-looking Clodoaldo (Irandhir Santos), who offer their services.
Most residents accept bar Francisco, who haughtily spurns Clodoaldo’s overtures and warns him to steer clear of Dinho. Francisco later has reason to change his mind as the film finally generates a welcome degree of suspense.
But too often the director, who cut his teeth on short films, inserts scenes of little or no import, such as Beatriz’s two kids having Chinese and English lessons. An interlude in which Francisco journeys out to the plantation villa, accompanied by João and his girlfriend Sofia (Irma Brown,) appears to be a pretext to show that trio standing under a waterfall and amid the ruins of an abandoned cinema. Similarly, Francisco goes for a midnight dip in the ocean, ignoring a sign warning of sharks. All artfully photographed, but what’s the relevance to the plot? None that I could fathom.
One promising set-up, when Dinho is threatened by the security men, peters out with no conclusion, while a sequence at a body corporate meeting, where the residents argue about whether or not to fire the concierge who is sleeping on the job, rambles on too long.
The ending could have delivered a hammer blow but the director curiously elects to cut away when the situation cried out for graphic visual exposition.
The camerawork by Pedro Sotero and Fabricio Tadeu reinforces the characters’ confinement in their mostly salubrious surroundings, suggesting that even prosperous folks are not immune from the stresses and dangers that can afflict all levels of society.
The titular sounds, which include a howling dog, a noisy boom box, traffic, children playing, a whirring vacuum cleaner and that unlikely pleasure machine, the spin dryer, evoke the normalcy of everyday life, a counterpoint to the events which are anything but normal, or predictable.
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